Friday, September 20, 2013

Getting Married Pt 2 - So, how'd you meet?

My fiance and I met online.

There.  I said it.  I'll say it proudly and openly to anyone who asks but I wasn't at all comfortable with on-line dating when I started six years ago.  I was moving to the DC area for my first call as a pastor.  I knew I wanted to live life with a family and I didn't know how else I'd meet someone.  I set up my profile with my brother vetoing particularly generic/pathetic lines (he nixed my initial profile name, "the purple turtle," saying I sounded like a 7th grader who believes in unicorns). My sister-in-law cheered me on, getting so into it that she wished she could do it too. M, I said, you married your high school sweetheart; we're all on here because we want what you've got. 

At first, I was terrified of people finding out I was online dating.  I quickly went from to eharmony (a more private site) because I didn't want anyone to find me.  Of course, what I actually wanted was someone to find me, so that was counter-productive.  I was ashamed that I had sunk to online dating.  It felt desperate.

Despite my shame, I kept at it.  I devised the term "inquiry coffee" instead of first date - took the pressure off.  I realized that if I were in it for the long haul, I'd better develop a thick skin and a good dose of humor.  I laughed off the person who lied and added seven years to his age because he likes older women; or the person who, after reading that the environment was important to me responded with "let's go burn some fossil fuels."  Huh?

After many months and gallons of inquiry coffee, I got serious with someone I was with for a few years.  But when that ended...

I hated having to go back on there, but even more, I hated walking through my life lonely and powerless hoping to bump into prince charming at the grocery store.  So, the last time around, I did more than just online dating.  I also got bold about asking friends for help.  They responded with care.   One couple arranged a dinner with their single friends so we could all meet.  One set me up with a date.  Ultimately, none of those people worked out, but having a network of support took the edge off and gave me hope.

Here's the full story of how I my fiance: It started with someone on my frisbee team.  Over time, he'd piqued my interest. A few years ago, in an uncharacteristic fit of boldness I emailed and confessed I was curious:

"I am not practiced at dipping my toes in the water, so please excuse me if this is waaay off base - or if your wife or child or girlfriend is looking over your shoulder and laughing!  Or if you are gay (I can never tell!) or just otherwise uninterested. I don't really know how to do this, but seemed worth exploring."

He had a girlfriend, but he was very kind in his response.  A year later, I went back on and his profile was the first that popped up.  I emailed him immediately and found out that he was already seeing someone (note to self: if he hadn't thought to ask me out on his own, he wasn't interested).  But still he was friendly and kind.

So I mustered courage and asked him for advice.  He looked over my profile and sent me a page of feedback.  He told me to get onto OKCupid (no, I'm not being paid for this endorsement!). He also said he'd keep an eye out for someone "awesome to introduce me to."  But the most important thing he wrote was about the fact that I'm a pastor:

"...for the right person it will be an awesome thing."

My identity as a pastor had felt like an enormous amount of baggage, but these words made me realize I just hadn't found the right person yet. 

I took all his advice and within a couple of weeks, a goofy, musical, fun-loving, caring, progressive baptist minister-turned-theology professor emailed me. He was the right person. The rest is history in the making.

Despite the statistic that an estimated 20-35% of marriages in the US in the last 5 years started online, it still has an underground, dirty feeling.

That's why my fiancee and I claim it proudly - to take away the shame and give other people hope.  We met online, thank God!  And I mean that.  We would not have met otherwise and we're so glad we did.

matchmaker, la la,

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Getting Married, pt 1 - Why'd it take so long?

On Oct 12 I'm getting married! Over the next month, I'm blogging various aspects of this big transition. 

A neighbor recently asked me "why did it take you so long to get married?"  My knee-jerk answer was "once I met my fiance, it didn't take long at all!"   That's not what she meant.  She told me how in her day, 22 was considered old to be married. I'm 38.

She posed the question as if deciding to get married is like deciding what to eat or when to take a vacation.  You just pick out what you want and when it works for you and bam, it's done.  She didn't know how often cries of "How long, oh lord?" went up from my lonely heart.  I have generally thought that if it had been completely up to me, I would have been married a long time ago.

That makes it sound like I've been waiting for a date for years and wondering when I'd meet anyone I loved.  I've gone on loads of dates (thank you, been in love and seriously contemplated marriage, going so far as to get engaged once and half-way engaged another time (words were exchanged but not rings or anything formal).

I could have been married by now.  So why I have decided not to?  It's too simple to say that I hadn't met the right person. It's taken me 38 years to know myself enough to know who the right person would be.  Much of that has to do with my identity as a pastor and how faith and work fit together with family. 

1) Faith: Twice I almost married men who were not fundamentally people of faith. The first time, it was someone I met in the Peace Corps.  We shared five good, formative years.  The relationship ended the same month I discovered I wanted to be a pastor.   I instinctively realized, without knowing why, that if I wanted my faith to be the central driving force of my life, he wasn't going to be the right husband. 

The second time, I was a new pastor and very much struggling with my identity.  It was comfortable to date someone who didn't bring any religious expectations into the relationship.   We went to worship together on Sunday nights and he came to church when I preached.  But it's telling that in 2+ years of dating, he never integrated into my church life. He respected my work and supported it, but we didn't share a faith.  That also meant that we didn't have a shared values system at the center of our life together.  We had no end of conflict.

At one particularly desperate time, I turned to a chapter by Pastor Martin Copenhaver called "Married to a Pagan."  I even asked my then-boyfriend to read it with the hopes that the love between pastor and atheist could turn into a marriage.  It works for Copenhaver; it would never work for me.  Our lack of shared faith didn't play consciously into our end, but it contributed.

With my fiance, our relationship is founded on shared faith. Committment to God is first for both of us.  I love the intimacy that brings us, the conversations  about church stuff, the shared values, and the theological debates.  Yes, his faith takes a different form (he's baptist), but that's great too.  His church life isn't dependent on mine.  He has a pastor.  We don't compete, we bring different insights and we respect one another. We pray for each other and with each other.  Now that I'm with him I wonder: how could I have ever thought that I would be happily married to someone with whom I didn't share all this? 

2) Work: I dated someone for a couple of years with whom I shared faith but who I sensed would never take my career seriously into account.  Great guy.  Not for me.

I have secret fantasies of keeping a clean house, cooking meals 7 days a week and having a perfect garden.  If children come, I dream of making their Halloween costumes and being the president of the PTA.  In short, I imagine becoming my mother (she is a great mother!). I also have dreams of a successful career that is meaningful and supports my family financially.  I want a cool office and respect of my peers and a rich intellectual life.  In short, I also imagine becoming my father (he is a great father!).   Guess what: there's a reason it took two of them to do it all.  

My default in relationships has been to cut out the dreams of being my father.  I've pretended, in subtle and not so subtle ways, that I could be a happy homemaker or a person who gave up career ambitions or for her family.  No wonder my boyfriends got confused when suddenly I was unhappy with the kind of set-up I'd led us both to believe would work for me!  I love my work and I love a clean house.  Classically gendered divisions of labor aren't going to work for me. 
My fiance frequently does things that reveal to me that they don't work for him either. 

For instance, on the day of my installation as the pastor, he brought an apron and after the service, went to work in the kitchen.  He let the day be about my call and the church and he wasn't the slightest bit insecure about it.  Last Saturday, while I was at a church council retreat, he cleaned my house and went grocery shopping for me.  He supports my career not just in lip service, but in these tangible ways. And I try my very hardest to do the same for him and his career.

Geography re: work also matters.  My fiance and I met just a few months after we both committed to positions in the DC area.  That meant that our relationship could develop without big geographical questions looming in the balance.  There's no assuming I will move wherever my fiance wants me to for his career and there's also no assuming that he will move for my career.   That's not to say we'll never move.  It's to say that there's no assumption that one person's career takes precedence over the other.

Other women (and men) have made different choices and happily let their husband's career dictate their location and thus direction of their careers.  That just wouldn't work for me, at least not now.

Speaking of...I better get to the office.  

More on marriage to come...

Peace and joy,

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Bishop Eaton's Election - cheers go up!

I love Mark Hanson, the former presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  Every time I've heard him or seen him, I've been amazed by his pastoral presence.  He is kind, faithful, generous with his time, dedicated to the church and a spiritually attuned preacher.  He has led the ELCA through stormy waters.

Because of his myriad qualifications and gifts, I assumed he would be re-elected, so when a friend posted on her FB page that there was a women in the running for Presiding Bishop, I did what I usually do:


This is something most women pastors I know do (it seems as if most groups who represent a minority in leadership do this same thing).

Out of 65 local bishops, only 9 are women.  That's less than 15%, and that's after 40+ years of ordaining women.   I didn't think there was reason to cheer when one finally made it into serious contention.

Well, a woman just got elected.  Our new presiding bishop is The Rev. Elizabeth Eaton. (Incidentally, she wasn't the woman in contention yesterday. Church elections aren't like governmental elections).

With the news, my phone screen filled with exuberant texts from female clergy friends.

These cheers have nothing to do with our respect for Bishop Hanson. These same friends love and honor his gifts, as do all the pastors I know.  He has been the right leader for these past twelve years.

Still, we cheer. We cheer because clearly, Bishop Eaton also has great gifts.  We cheer because we trust that Bishop Eaton will be the right leader for the future and we cheer because her gender did not disqualify her.  These cheers have everything to do with knowing just how hard it is for a female leader in the church to survive, much less thrive.

There's some social media chatter that she was elected because she was a woman and so those who cheer for her are sexist.  To those folks, I ask that you keep in mind that in most of the world's religions, women can't serve as clergy/leaders; in other words: being female is an automatic disqualification. When the last Pope was elected, the only qualification was that he be male.  He didn't even need to have already been baptized, as long as he was willing to be baptized and then ordained.

We didn't elect a pope; but we did the equivalent for our relatively tiny church - the ELCA.  This election indicates that the stained glass ceiling really is cracking. I love Bishop Hanson, and I join my voice to the chorus of cheers for Bishop Eaton. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Words for the week: all kinds of greed.

I spent last week at a workshop called "writing pastors, working pastors." It was at the Collegeville Institute at St. John's University - a community I highly recommend.  Twelve pastors and three facilitators were there for a week of writing, critiquing, and sharing our love for language. 

I went into the week feeling insecure about my writing which, in turn made me feel competitive.  We each wrote a piece for the workshop which was distributed ahead of time.  I am embarrassed to admit that as I read the essays, I had a bit of a "survivor" attitude.  I sized up the other writers and tried to assess their merits relative to my own.   I didn't want to come away with a book deal.  I just didn't want to be kicked off the island. 

In the mornings we met to discuss questions like: why write? why not write? who are we writing for?  how do we write revealing and embarrassing stories about our family members without them being angry with us? (that last question was easy: don't.) 

In the afternoons, we lovingly critiqued eachother's writing.  I was initially terrified by the word "critique" but over the course of the week, this became my favorite part.  We encouraged one another even as we pointed out how we could each improve.  There was no competition, only graceful nurture and respect.

The facilitators helped us see that each of us has a unique voice.  They ended the week by encouraging us to be generous with each other.  “There’s room for you all” said one, “help each other out.”   I began the week with 12 competitors; I ended the week with 12  cheerleaders.

That experience became the basis of my sermon last week.  The gospel was Luke 12:13-21 where Jesus says "be on guard for all kinds of greed."

There’s more than just financial greed.  In my case, I struggle against the greed for praise. There’s also greed for attention; for job promotion; for the quality of relationships you see others have; for spiritual insight; for another person’s abilities etc etc etc.  And the crazy thing is that greed and its companions – jealousy and insecurity– appear in our lives even when we have plenty.    

That's why the community at Collegeville was such a grace.  Because of the abundance of love, nurture, and encouragement, my greed was replaced with generosity.  

Thanks y'all! - Sarah

AND, the treat of the poem of the week from C.R., Peace Lutheran's resident poem-hound: 

Hyacinths, by James Terry White

If thou of fortune be bereft,
And in thy store there be but left
Two loaves-- sell one, and with the dole
Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Words for the week: Spot the similarity

"There is no longer Jew nor Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."  Galatians 3:28
Last week during the sermon, I asked everybody to change places and go sit by someone they didn't know.  After finding out each other's names (a key first step!) the pairs spent a couple of minutes trying to find all the ways they were different from each other: gender, marital status, children or not, age, generation, ethnic background, favorite sport, education level, etc.  

The room was abuzz.  After people quieted down, I emphasized that we are bound together despite these countless differences.  We are drawn into relationships with people who are different from us because we need each other. But for Christians, there's a more fundamental reason to reach across all sorts of aisles. Christ loves that other person as much as Christ loves you. 
If we walk around humbly recalling that Christ died for all people - even those we find mean-spirited, opinionated in the wrong direction, profoundly sinful, or just plain annoying - we create relationships based not on outward identity, but on our identity as God's children.

To end, I asked people to turn to the conversation partner, make the sign of the cross on their foreheads and say: "Christ died for you." 
You can hear the sermon here

The previous week I preached on forgiveness.  Our resident poet-hound, Carol, finds a poem each week that goes along with the sermon.  Here is the one on forgiveness.  It helps if you know who Bill Buckner is.  This is Carol's description: 
"Buckner was a decent first baseman and a good hitter, but he is best known for an error he made playing for the Red Sox in a world series game. The ground ball went through his legs, the runner scored, the Red Sox lost the game and went on to lose the series. We all make errors, and we are all forgiven."

Forgiving Buckner  John Hodgen

The world is always rolling between our legs.
It comes for us, dribbler, slow roller,
humming its goat song, easy as pie.

We spit in our gloves, bend our stiff knees,
keep it in front of us, our fathers' advice,
but we miss it every time, its physic, its science,
and it bleeds on through, blue streak, heart sore,
to the four-leaf clovers deep in right field.

The runner scores, knight in white armor,
the others out leaping, bumptious, gladhanding,
your net come up empty, Jonah again.
Even the dance of the dead won't come near you,
heart in your throat, holy of holies,
the oh of your mouth as the stone rolls away,
as if it had come from before you were born
to roll past your life to the end of the world,
till the world comes around again, gathering steam,
heading right for us again and again,
faith of our fathers, world without end.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Words for the week - "situationally Christian?"

Last week, I preached about hypocrisy.  I have recently changed my diet to something akin to veganism, but because of all the exceptions to my rule, I can’t properly be called a vegan.  Instead, I call myself “situationally vegan” which means I’m not really vegan at all.  

Our lives can’t stand up to absolute scrutiny.  We all have commitments that would be easier to honor “situationally” or only when convenient.    Some would like to be “situationally married.”  Some would like to be “situationally a parent.” Some would like to only situationally pay the bills.  All of us, even with our best efforts, end up being “situationally Christian.”  It is impossible for us to follow Jesus with complete integrity, but the grace is that we don't have to.  Yes, we try. But we are humbled by knowing that we can't ever reach perfection.  Through Christ’s healing love we are given a wholeness we can’t achieve on our own.

This week I will preach about forgiveness.  The gospel (Luke 7) features a woman who is called “a sinner.”  Jesus angers the Pharisees by allowing her to wash his feet.  He then points out through a parable that the Pharisees are also sinners.  This, of course, would offend them greatly. Those who take offense at their sinfulness can't claim the great gift of forgiveness.  We have to come clean in order to be free from our guilt.  

We need hide nothing from God.  Forgiveness is as great a miracle as physical healing.  Better.  Forgiveness is ours for the taking but in order to take it, we have to be honest about our guilt.  As psalm 32 says:  While I kept silence, my body wasted away…Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and you forgave the guilt.”  

A frequent worshiper has taken to sending me a poem in response to worship and sermons.  This has created a wonderful dialogue.  In last week's sermon, I talked about how many of us would be embarrassed to have our financial life scrutinized.  The poem sent in response was "Oniomania" by Peter Pereira. I especially like the last line: "She's looking for love but it's not for sale, so she grabs 3 of the next best thing."

Oniomania - Peter Pereira
Not so much the desire
for owning things
as the inability to choose
between hunter or emerald
green, to buy
just roses, when there are birds
of paradise, dahlias,
delphinium, and baby’s breath.
At center an emptiness
large as a half-off sale table.
What could be so wrong
with a little indulgence?
To wander the aisles of fresh
new good things knowing
any of them could be hers?
With a closet full of shoes
unworn back home,
she’s looking for love
but it’s not for sale —
so she grabs three of
the next best thing.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Words for the week: preparing for Holy Week.

Preparing for Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter, I am immersed in a series of worship services.  Each of them hits a different tone -celebration, outpouring of love, grief, joy.  In the office, we toggle between them as we get ready for the week ahead.  Choosing hymns, we go from humming through the mournful "O Sacred Head Now Wounded" to bouncing along with "Christ the Lord is Risen today."  Planning the words for worship I read a Good Friday lament: "O My people, my church, what more could I have done for you, Answer me!"  Then I turn to the next service and there it is: resurrection and the traditional, joyous words: "Christ is arisen - he is risen indeed!"
The back and forth lead up to Easter can be quite jarring and Palm Sunday kicks it off.  We go from raising palms in honor of Jesus (Hosanna!) to being a voice in the angry mob (Crucify him!).   During the week we will experience the grief of betrayal, the finality of death, and the joy of resurrection.  It becomes apparent that all these experiences - these emotions - are connected to one another.  They often don't move in as linear a fashion as we'd like.  Yet as we walk through them, something happens.  God's grace is woven through the fabric of time.  We find - much to our surprise - that by Easter morning there is less grief and more joy.  
I urge you to take part in the complete series of worship services for Holy Week, starting with Palm Sunday and including Maundy (commandment) Thursday and Good Friday, both at 7:30.  We will move through all these experiences - the highs and lows, and arrive together at the most amazing place of all: the empty tomb.
Peace and Joy,
Pastor Sarah

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Words for the week: It's not about the money

Last week we heard the story of the prodigal (wasteful) son, the resentful older brother, and the loving father.  No matter your birth order, you can relate to some aspect of each of the sons.  Who among us hasn’t squandered some gift and felt ashamed?  Who among us hasn’t felt resentful for generosity shown to others?  The character I find difficult to relate to is the father.  He doesn’t worry about the potential for future disappointment from the younger son.  He doesn’t let an elevated sense of fairness from the older son keep him from sharing.  The father loves both sons extravagantly, wastefully even.  His love shows us a glimpse of how God loves: more joyfully, eagerly, patiently that we can ever understand. 

In this week’s gospel, Mary wipes Jesus’ feet with an extraordinary amount of perfume.  She is grateful that Jesus raised her brother from the dead and she prepares Jesus for his own imminent death.  Meanwhile, Judas argues that the money could have been used for the poor. 

Judas seems like the righteous one – worried about the poor.  But he really is worried about his own bank account. Mary seems like the wasteful one; how many people could have been fed by the money spent on that perfume?  Jesus surprises us by honoring Mary’s extravagant gift. I relate much more to Judas than Mary: anxious about money, looking for ways to justify my own priorities, critical of others, all the while driven by a sense of lack and fear.  Judas was focused on the money and his own needs, not the poor and not Jesus. Mary was focused on the relationship and let love of Christ be her first priority. 

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. ...