- It's hard to know what to do on Saturdays when I'm not preaching.
- I wonder where I will end up next?
- When I hear young people singing beautifully, as I did at LP's District Honors Chorus Festival today, I feel hopeful for the world.
- When I come home and read news about the Tea Party Convention, I don't.
- Really, it's hard to figure out how to structure my week when I'm not preaching.
- I fear I sound whiny, which is not nice to some of my pastor friends who are between engagements, so to speak.
- Leaving is an inevitable part of life, but in Interim Ministry, it comes with alarming regularity.
- Maybe I ought to be less mopey and watch TV with LP instead.
- We have that "What Not to Wear" with the Episcopal priest on our DVR.
- Next week I'll try to find a writing rhythm, but at the moment it feels pretty pointless because…
- it's not for preaching or the associated preparation.
- And maybe I need a writing project.
- But I don't know what that would be.
- Except I did suggest to Pure Luck that maybe someone might be interested in the story of a pastor married to an atheist, and he said sure, and I said we could write it together, and he suggested I could interview him, which is to say, do the work myself.
- Lastly, in response to the ways we have tried to accommodate various worries about Communion (germs, gluten, etc.), LP suggests it's getting to the point we will be handing people a plastic wafer to hold, contemplate, and then return to us.
I've been at my current job for six months now, and it was great to meet with the Pastoral Relations Committee tonight and have a wide-ranging conversation about the job, the church and the preparation for a settled Associate Pastor. My work as a consultant to the Search Committee will soon be over, as they get closer to running an ad and beginning to look at candidate profiles. Although I continue to leave open the possibility of seeking a settled call myself when this job ends, I *love* working with search committees. It's exciting, challenging and creative work, helping the committee to paint a picture of the church that will speak to the heart of the pastor who will be the right match.
When I shared this with the committee, the Moderator of the church pointed out the cost at which doing this very gratifying work comes: the wrenching nature of the goodbyes that come at uncomfortably close intervals.
He's got that right.
Sam went to Youth Group with me tonight. We met with the Senior High kids and then checked in on the Junior Youth meeting, where half-a-dozen sixth grade girls raced across the room to pet him.
(He likes girls a lot.)
I had been away at our Annual Conference Meeting and got home only a short time before I needed to go to church. I missed him and didn't want to leave him, even though he had the company of Pure Luck's BFF all weekend. I'm grateful I could take him with me.
But I can't stop thinking how weird it is to be at a church where they've never known Molly.
"Our other Berner," I say, or "our first Berner." The first sounds too immediate, as if she might be waiting at home; the second sounds too distant,practically historic.
We've had a lot of transitions this year, loss and separation and disappointments and graduation and disconnection and one new entry after another for each of us at jobs and schools. In all the time I've known him, Pure Luck has never worked at so many different locations in one year. And I'm aware that moving from one church community to another, despite the interesting nature of the work (and the rather wonderful time I'm having at Y1P), creates additional strain on the family system. I wonder what's next, and it will need to be an active form of wonder fairly soon. I'll undergo another criminal background check, since they are only good for 18 months and I had my last almost two years ago. I'll need to update my ministerial profile.
On the old one, I listed ministry work with Molly as one of my interests.
When Pure Luck and I first knew each other, when we decided to see if we had more in common than the spark we both appreciated so much, we bought a jigsaw puzzle and put it together on my dining room table. No lightweights, we chose a 1000 piece puzzle for our experiment. I remember his long body leaning across the table, patiently piecing clouds while I focused on the swath of red cape, or the little lilac cloak. We worked on the puzzle for several weeks and our anticipation grew as we neared completion.
But in the end a piece had gone missing. Perhaps a cat walked across the table and knocked a piece aside with a paw. Perhaps a young child picked one up and carried it away. We did not know, and with disappointment, we put the pieces back in the box.
Some time later I found the missing piece when I lifted the corner of the oriental rug to vacuum.
I find I'm looking back and wondering about my choices; it seems inevitable after a weekend with colleagues, seeing who has moved, or what pulpits have been filled, knowing some got where they are by the rules of our system, while others…well, let's just say a few pieces of the process may have gone missing. I look back and wonder if I made good choices, if I really understood where God was leading me. I look ahead and wonder where God will beckon and whether I will be able to finish the puzzle the right way, wonder if I ever have?
The painting is Raphael's Triumph of Galatea. As in so many mythological stories there is love between a human and a nymph, and there is a jealous monster, and there is a tragic death and in this case a river that holds the spirit of the dead lover. Galatea's triumph is not to defeat her enemies or to bring her love back to life but to transcend this plane of existence.
I fear I want my satisfaction, my completion, my meaning on this plane instead.
We still have the puzzle. I can't remember whether I put the missing piece in the box with the rest of them. It's been eight years, and that memory might as well be under the rug, too. Galatea still has her apotheosis, with or without it.
Yesterday I had a visit with a friend from college days, and we asked the sorts of questions you do when four years have gone by since the last meeting, about kids and work and pets and extended families. Her husband asked, "Don't you want your own church?"
I have to confess, that's one of the most frustrating questions to be asked, because the answers are "Yes" and "No" and "Maybe."
First, yes. There's a certain appeal to being in a settled call. You have the chance to start things and see them grow, to develop relationships of depth, to live through the cycle of the year and then another and then another, to build trust and be present. Those are all good things.
But second, no. Because the question suggests that there is something "less than" about doing Interim Ministry, and while I would welcome a settled call if that's to be, I don't see what I'm doing now as stop-gap, for me or for the churches I've served.
And third, maybe. When I consider my gifts for ministry and make a list of which suit me to settled ministry and which to transitional ministry, both lists look respectable. A career assessment tool would not answer this question.
Here's what he had them singing:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
I clearly can't see the answer to this question by myself.
And I am left wondering if maybe there's no such thing as a wrong ministry as long as I'm ministering.
It's that time. It's Saturday morning, and I'm preaching tomorrow morning, and since I've been on vacation this week, I've got a sermon to write.
I don't usually arrange it this way–I prefer to have vacation begin after preaching and include the following Sunday–but for a variety of reasons, this was the way it needed to be. It's just harder to get the motor started after a week of idling.
This is also the first day I am full time in the newer of my two jobs. I've left the Freeport UCC and said all my goodbyes and passed along the necessary information to the long-term supply pastor who will be with them through the end of the year, at least. Today I am fully in the employ of Y1P, as their Interim Associate Pastor.
I'm still working out exactly what that job means. Interim ministry is a funny hybrid of pastoring and consulting, and it seems this particular interim will be those things but in a much different ratio, with the emphasis on making sure certain programs continue apace and the consulting more of a condiment than the main course or even the side dish.
This also means I'll be preaching much less often, and I have to wonder what that means for this blog, which was titled in such a way to suggest I would be engaging the lectionary with regularity. I saw it as a way to deepen my reflections and sharpen my writing, but I also saw it aimed toward the weekly sermon.
Now, I wouldn't dare ask what's the point of it if I'm not preaching, since there is plenty of point to engaging with scripture, for all kinds of reasons. But there is a sense of loss for me that there will be no end-product, or no need for one, most weeks. This month, while my colleague is on vacation, I'll preach a lot, but after this month, it's once a month for the duration of this job (at least until he figures out any other time he's taking off).
I can't decide whether this just makes me sad, which is silly since I knew going in it would be this way, or whether I ought to see this as an opening to do other things with my writing. I'd like to think there is some deeper purpose to this particular direction my ministry is taking, if only for a year, that there is something I will learn that I needed to know.
But for today, there is a sermon to write. I am back at it.
My husband sometimes wonders why we have no stories in which Jesus laughs, and it's one of the things that makes him, serious though he is himself, take Jesus less seriously. How could be be fully anything without laughing? Even the solemn Pure Luck laughs out loud occasionally (especially when people sample Moxie in his presence, right, MB?).
At Y1P, it's traditional that the pastors receive "gifts" culled from the donations to the Pink Pachyderm portion of the Clam Festival, and my colleague now has three year's worth of Jesus-related tributes in his office. One is a laughing Jesus. I tried to find the image on Google and mostly found things that make his laughter terrifying.
But I think a lot of his storytelling must have been based in humor so contextual that we just don't get it, the humor people suffering under oppression share with one another because being humorless ultimately doesn't help. And wouldn't you need a sense of humor to lead those disciples for three years? I suppose I see his humor as dry, more a wink and a nudge than a guffaw.
This morning I'm reflecting on God's sense of humor. I really enjoy Interim Ministry, which of course is all about transitions. But I'm finding, once again, my own transition to be difficult, sad, a little painful. I've left three churches since January 2007. I've learned three new congregations. I'll be with the current one for less than another year. No sooner do I arrive than it's time to update my profile, renew my background check and begin to consider what's next.
Meanwhile at home, I've lived in the same house for 11 years. I've managed to provide stability for my children, who have grown up here and started to grow away, too. I love our quiet street, the trees around our house, the things I see when I get to the corner and turn right or left into the busier world. I wonder how much longer I can continue in this work from this home base?
Since the RA diagnosis last year, I've thought a lot about stress and chronic illness and the relative desirability of more settled employment. I've weighed those things against all the stresses related to a geographic move, and the desire to have my daughter finish school where she started, and the complications of a two household family. I've struggled with the fear that I will run out of possible jobs, although that is probably needless. There are always churches in transition, and I like to think I do this job well.
This morning I'm considering the ways my life seems destined to be at least until LP finishes high school: a string of jobs, a host of new people to learn and fond goodbyes to be said, the continuation of Pure Luck's life on the road for up to half the year, the wondering about what the future will hold. These form a pretty funny spiritual lesson for a mildly anxious gal at midlife who still contemplates her abandonment issues and hates to think of abandoning others. These form a pretty funny lesson in trust.
Do I believe in a laughing Jesus? Maybe he laughs when we finally get the joke.
My shepherd is the living God,
I therefore nothing need;
In pastures fair, near pleasant streams
you settle me to feed.
You bring my wandering spirit back
when I forsake your ways,
And lead me for your mercy's sake
in paths of truth and grace.
It can be hard to tell some stories about your children–their accomplishments or their gifts or their good fortune or happy moments in your relationship with them–without sounding like Hubris just begging Nemesis to stop by for coffee.
But I'm going to risk it.
Because #1 Son either shared or grew into my delight in singing along while listening to vocal music of one kind and another, we've done a lot of singing together. I got to hear his voice a lot. Mostly we loved singing along to musicals, and even today when I listen to the favorites in our collection, I imagine the parts he could play. On the trip to take him to college in 2004, we lined up our favorites and sang them with gusto, as if the chance would never come again.
Snowman joined in as a little fellow, although he became more of a listener when he began to pick apart the orchestrations in his mind. Still, even when he didn't want to sing so much himself, he didn't seem to mind if we did.
But we could not get LP to join us. She liked to hear the music the way it was supposed to be and still only tolerates the singing along sometimes. My days of singing in the car with a child seem to be over, and I miss it; I cannot tell a lie.
So I haven't heard our voices together much, except on the rare occasions we stand next to each other for a hymn on Sunday morning. I seize those moments when I can, but usually I am far away.
Last week, as I looked ahead to this final week in Freeport, and thought about the music based on the 23rd Psalm, I asked her if she would be willing to sing something with me for church. She surprised me by saying yes, and I suggested an adaptation of Isaac Watts' "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need," set to the good old tune from Southern Harmony, Resignation. We used the words in the New Century Hymnal, mostly because it seemed less complicated to be singing exactly what the organist would be playing and we had limited time to rehearse. We agreed this tune should work, even for two altos, one long-time and the other newly-minted.
This morning we got to church early to practice. It's kind of a strange thing for me to be the "Special Music," and I wondered if I would regret it. I sometimes sing in the body of a sermon if it feels like the right thing to do, and I sang for a while with the choir at Small Church. Back then we got a friend of #1 Son's to come and play guitar once or twice a year, and we formed our own little family folk group with the young music director there.
But this felt more exposed and I wondered if we would work, or for that matter sound, well together. But I talked with the organist about the introduction, and we began to sing together.
When I walk through the shades of death,
your presence is my stay;
A word of your supporting breath
drives all my fear away.
Your hand, in sight of all my foes,
does still my table spread;
My cup with blessing overflows,
your oil anoints my head.
It felt good.
Oh, we made a few changes after the first time through. I had to think about whether to sing all the lines in two parts, and eventually made some of them unison. LP asked for a slight pick-up in the tempo. We worked together to find a cut-off that gave us a chance to get our breath at the end of each verse.
Mostly, it amazed me how nice our voices sounded together. I managed to mangle a note or two when it came time to sing in the service, but really the whole thing felt wonderful.
I loved singing with my daughter.
The sure provisions of my God
attend me all my days;
O may your house be my abode,
and all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest,
while others come and go
No more a stranger or a guest,
but like a child at home.
As we began the final verse, I had that feeling of relief I sometimes get on the last page of a sermon–almost home!!–and realized I knew the last bit well enough to lean into it and not be so focused on the page of music in front of me. I felt the peace of the settled rest, although it will not be in that particular church.
And it's funny, I've been preaching for more than a year about the lack of importance of a set place to be present with God, at the same time I've come to hope for my own ministry to be settled again. And I don't like where this is headed, but I suppose the truth for them is also the truth for me. I meet God in those moments when I get my eye off the page and feel the presence.
O, may God's house be my abode, and all my work be praise.
After 16 months, this will be my last time speaking to you from this pulpit. I am already half-gone, living in a strange Twilight Zone of saying goodbye in one place while I try to learn the names in another. I spent Friday at the Clam Festival, and in the afternoon I volunteered at the book sale. On a table of dedicated to political science, there sat a hefty volume listing the 100 most influential people in history. A quick perusal of the Table of Contents revealed a surprise about Jesus: he ranked third, after Muhammad and Sir Isaac Newton. The author decided that Muhammad ranked higher because his success came in both the religious and political worlds. Jesus, you see, did not even establish his own religion. St. Paul received the credit for Christianity and came in at number six.
It reminds us that evaluating people and systems is an entirely subjective act. It’s impossible not to bring our own prejudices and experiences and loyalties and preferences into the mix. We look at a situation and imagine how it ought to be handled, and some of us throw ourselves right in to try and fix or establish or renovate or contain, or to perform whatever vibrant act seems appropriate.
I have to confess that I came to work here last year with a lot of ideas about what you could do or ought to try, and when the downturn in the economy shook things up last summer I drew up a revised mental list, and when other things shifted I created another. I’m nothing if not adaptable. I considered your possibilities and I told you openly and subtly in as many ways as I knew how something that I believe with all my heart. No matter how pretty the windows, no matter how familiar the architecture, no matter how beautiful the organ music, there is more to being church than being in a building. It’s not the building that matters. It’s the community within the building that expresses God’s love. You might think I picked today’s Hebrew Bible lesson to illustrate just that point, to lay it before you one last time. But in truth, I might have hesitated to go there with you once more, except that the story is today’s lectionary reading.
We don’t know what kind of house God will make out of this church. This is not the first location for this congregation and it may not be the last. And God is not interested in being indoors with you in one particular place. We might draw any of those conclusions from today’s story about David the King and Nathan the Prophet.
They were on new ground with one another, these two. David, after many heroic exploits, is now the King of both Israel and Judah, and he wisely chooses to consolidate his power in a new capitol, Jerusalem. In the tradition of kings, he will take on an advisor, a prophet to help him figure out whether he is on the right path as far as God is concerned. As you heard last Sunday, David arrived in triumph in Jerusalem, dancing into the new city to usher in the Ark of the Covenant, that holiest of treasures belonging to the people of God, their assurance that God would be always with them.
To show his authority and power and confidence and importance, David plans to build a palace of cedar in which he will live. For a people accustomed to living in tents, this made a statement of intent to stay in one place. Naturally David took the next step in his mind and decided to build a Temple in which to place the Ark containing the tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. The Ark, like the people, had traveled from one place to another, sheltered by tents, quickly moved in case of danger, guarded carefully and carried only by a particular family of priests. This container of holiness could finally rest.
Nathan, new at this prophet gig, gave his approval.
And suddenly a story about David becomes a story about Nathan, doesn’t it?
But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in?
I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?" (2 Samuel 7:4-7, NRSV)
But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan. I don’t know about you, but I find that mildly terrifying! The word of the Lord came to Nathan—how? A dream? An angel? A voice in the darkness?
I had a dream once that I stood in an enormous, formal sanctuary in a church with a high chancel, in which a group of tall men presided, while at the same time a friend and I prepared round Communion tables suited to groups of 8 or 10 people, right on the sanctuary floor. The word of the Lord? Holy, holy, holy! My heart beat so hard it woke me!
I imagine Nathan’s heart beating right out of his chest. This is a new relationship with David, with a King who can get rid of him pretty easily at this stage of the game. And he is supposed to ask, “Are you the one?”
Are you the one to build a Temple for the Ark? The very question is full of disrespect. What right have you to think you would be the one?
Well, I am a hero, and I am the general, and I am the victor, and I am the King. David might have said all these things in response.
I find it fascinating that God puts both Nathan and David in this position from the beginning of their relationship. David receives some humbling news. Not only does God not want him to build a Temple, not only does God revel in the freedom of living in a tent, not only does God make it clear that God is the one in charge of establishing David's house, but someday, there will be a Temple, and David will not be the one to build it.
Are you the one?
It’s an occupational hazard for religious leaders, thinking we can be everything to everyone. It may lead to overwork and burn-out, or it may lead to neglect of family time, or it may lead, as a pastor in another state once said, to many hours a day zoned out in front of computer solitaire. We may forget that ministry belongs to all of us. We may forget that even Jesus tried to get out in the boat for a break now and then. We may forget that there are jobs to be left for the next generation, or even the next one in the job to accomplish.
We may be far too inclined to answer the question, “Are you the one?” with a resounding “Yes!”
In the gospel lesson, Jesus tries to get some rest for himself and for his disciples, and there is no question that we hear our own church members saying they feel worn out with working hard. We might wish we could get out there on the boat with them and rest. But in this passage there will be no rest for them, because the people who want help from Jesus and attention from his followers find them wherever they go. They seek a deserted place and are found. They cross to the other side and are found again.
“And Jesus had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd."
Worn out and hungry himself, he fed their spirits. In the verses we skipped today, he made dinner for five thousand men out of just a few loaves and fishes, feeding the people in body, too. He loved them too much to say no. He loves us that much today.
The really good news about Jesus is that even though he got tired out when he lived among us in human form, he has long since transcended the box of a body. The really good news about God is that
under a tent or in a Temple or even with the Ark who knows where now, no container can hold the Divine Source of All Love.
Today we end our season of worship together, but in the greater scheme of things, it’s just one more Sunday in the life of this gathered body of Christ’s people. I came to you with a list of things I thought you might do, and I adjusted the list as we went along, but in the end, my list doesn’t matter. What matters is how you go on together and how you listen together for God’s words and guidance. What matters is how you receive Christ’s compassion and live in God’s love. What matters is how you reach out with compassion to share that love with those who need it most. When you do, whether you meet in a palace of cedar or a tent where the wind blows through, you will be the ones who build God’s House. Amen.
I could be two different places today, but due to the wet weather and the need to have a voice for preaching tomorrow, I'm staying close to home. I feel frustrated by having a medical reason for this (the knowledge that I am more prone to become sickly due to immune-suppressing meds for RA).
Both the scriptures I'm looking at for tomorrow involve people expecting to do a particular thing and being frustrated by others. Before coffee this morning I tried to work through my decision for today using scripture as a lens, but that did not seem to help. No matter how I related myself to David, or Jesus and the disciples, I got the same answer: standing in damp grass/fog or being out all day in the rain (weather forecast different for the two locations/events) is not wise for a person with a final sermon to preach tomorrow.
Maybe that would be good sense even without the medical complications. And perhaps I should have been able to see that when the Clam Festival, the Bernese Mountain Dog Summer Picnic and the last Sunday at Freeport are all the same weekend, something would have to give.
And hopefully not me.
So, instead of driving 60 miles each way to the picnic and enjoying the dogs on a foggy morning in wet grass, I'll be home drinking coffee and finishing a sermon, and hoping the thunderstorms hold off for my Y1P folks working at the Clam Festival today.
And contemplating limitations, and their source.
In the car yesterday, Mary Beth and Light Princess and I listened to the Original Broadway Cast recording of "The Sound of Music," with Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel. My parents had the record when I was a little girl, and it was among the ones I took out of the dust covers, placed artistically on our family room rug and walked on in my little bare feet. I remember that they felt marvelously cool and smooth to the touch. I also remember that record in particular had a lot of skips, probably from my girl-handling of it. I memorized every non-skipped note on the record and didn't learn what they should have sounded like, really, until I bought the CD about ten years ago.
What is still true is that my favorite song in the musical is "So Long, Farewell." I can play the whole thing out in my mind, with the voices from the record and the voices and images from the movie. Marta hates to miss this pretty sight; Friedrich bids adieu; Liesl hopes for champagne; Kurt hits the high note; Brigitta cannot tell a lie; Louisa flits and floats and fleetly flees and flies; and Gretl, of course, tells us "the sun has gone to bed and so must I."
So long, farewell, auf wiedersehn, goodbye.
When I was 18, I spent three weeks staying at the Schloss Leopoldskron outside Salzburg, the place the outdoor patio and glass house scenes in the movie were filmed. My dad, along with other law school deans and then-Justice Rehnquist, taught a seminar for European lawyers at Harvard's Salzburg Seminar. All the participants brought their children along, and we had a fantastic time together, heightened for me by my lifelong love for the von Trapps and the scenes from the movie. We climbed mountains and visited locations from the movie and hung out in the glass house and just generally had a wonderful time. In the evenings, one of the European lawyers played the piano and people sang, and I was one of them.
(And if there was a red-headed friend of the son of one of the other law school deans who passed through on a backpacking trip and caught my attention, that was not the only reason the memories are magical, but it didn't hurt.)
I leave and heave a sigh and say goodbye. Good bye!
It's time to say farewells at the 1FP. This will be my last Sunday with them, and next week I'll pack my books and clean out my files. I could not fix everything I hoped to fix. Can we ever? I leave certain things wide open and undetermined. I prepare to bid farewell to some people I will never see again, though I will not forget them.
I flit, I float, I fleetly flee, I fly.
I'm already deep into my next job, at Y1P. I won't have the sharp transition of leaving one place and starting at another. But it's still hard, and it leaves me wondering about people who spend a career doing Interim Ministry, years and years of arriving already intending to leave. I'm happy to be at Y1P, which is a wonderful congregation, and I've loved the people at 1FP, but truly? I wish my life would have not quite so many farewells.