Bearnaise Sauce Dogs, Call, Ministry of the Meantime, The Inner Landscape


This morning Sam and I went walking outside our usual neighborhood and made our way to the street where I lived before my divorce. I wanted to diverge from our usual route in part to see whether last week's storm had damaged trees in the old neighborhood. Sam went along with me cheerfully, sniffing eagerly at message boards he doesn't usually get to read, so to speak. 

We walked past the yellow house where I lived from 1993 to 1997, from soon after my mother died until just before my father did. We circled that block and passed the park where my boys learned to ride their bikes. Then we walked toward the University and through the campus via an unfamiliar route, finally meeting up with the Law School side of the street, a landmark we walk past almost daily. 

Then, and only then, would Sam do his more serious "bidness." 

We might call it his home turf, his territory, his neighborhood, his comfort zone. I wonder if for Sam, as for me, it isn't that he feels better in his particle space?

I wrote about our neighborhood, our street and my sense of gestalt on my previous blog a few years ago. I made a case for this being our right place, and then at the end I pulled out the pavement beneath my feet, suggesting the inner world mattered more than the outer. I wrote the post at a time I was coming to realize I had to leave Small Church, as they were no longer going to be able to support a full-time pastor. I was trying to prepare myself for the possibility of leaving Esplanade Street, as I called it. 

Yesterday after church, Snowman and LP and I walked Sam together, and we talked about our trees, the way we would feel if our street didn't have this esplanade of maples. "It would just be any street," we agreed. We've lost a lot of trees in this neighborhood, many in the Patriot's Day storm of 2007, more this past week. The tree in front of our house, overspreading our yard, helps describe home to us.

As it turned out, we didn't have to move for me to have another job. What had to happen was for me to move, once, twice, now three times. And it's important to me today to remember how becoming settled here mattered so much to us. Would I keep changing jobs every year or so in order to walk on these sidewalks and check in on these trees? 

Do I have to trade one kind of stability for another?

Much as I have enjoyed my interim jobs, and I hope I've done them well, I wish I could have both a settled community of faith and my settled particle space at home. I've come to believe the two don't have to be in conflict, but I haven't seen yet where they might be in relationship. I hope that the way will become clearer, soon, that I will see my way home.

Call, If I Were Preaching

Like Mrs. K

(A not-sermon for Epiphany 5C)

This morning I got to read the scriptures, which I don’t usually do when my colleague is preaching. He felt like changing things up, and I was happy to do it. I love to read the Psalms, and the gospel lesson about Jesus and Peter is a particular favorite of mine. We weren’t reading Isaiah or the epistle, but bearing them all in mind, I stepped up to the pulpit (we have one center pulpit, no lectern) and read the passages. I hadn’t looked at them today–wasn’t expecting to read them–but I read them earlier in the week, so they had that feeling of being known, but not intimately, not recently anyway.

And it struck me, as I read them, that reading aloud from the Bible, making the stories and the songs come alive, is one of the things I do best. I find ways to make the old words new, by playing with them, or relating them to something else I read or saw or lived.

Some say I work at a disadvantage because my writing is based in that old book of violent stories, and it’s certainly true some parts of the Bible are than palatable to a 21st century sensibility. But I don’t think it’s true the stories are not relatable, if that’s a word. I find them intensely, overwhelmingly relatable, in two senses. I relate to them, and I love finding a way to relate them to others, to relate them to our lives now.

Legal Pad The texts for this Sunday all ask us to lean into the plans God has for us. Now, I’m a pretty post-theistic Christian, as I’ve mentioned before. I don’t imagine God the Father with a plan for me on his yellow legal pad sheets, spelled out with black marker.

My dad wrote on those legal pads, always. The markers that came home in his briefcase when I was a little girl were grey with a black top, and they made a satisfying squeak on the paper. When I visited his Senate office, I gasped with delight to see them all over the place, on everyone’s desks. It would be a relief to imagine God like him, making notes for my life in an intelligently illegible hand, with dashes setting off lists of what I might do, what I ought to do.

I would like that.

Some days.

But we don’t all get the specific instructions that came to Isaiah–and really, who would want his? We don’t all get knocked down on the road like Paul and sent off to the town to see a certain person.

Maybe most of us are more like Simon Peter. We go on our daily round, doing the work that life brings to us, until a day when something unexpected knocks us to our knees, even figuratively, and we are, at least for a moment, awed.

I love this encounter between Peter and Jesus. I love the way Peter begs off, and I love the way Jesus acknowledges this is a lot to handle.

“Do not be afraid!” Or “Fear not!” That’s what it says in the King James Version. I like poetry. I was an English major, I cannot help it.

My daughter is 14, and unlike her brothers, who had chosen a direction or perhaps I might better say been chosen by a passion at that age, she wonders what she will do with her life. At that age, I had no idea. I thought I would get married someday. I imagined myself with a large family, mostly because I had a lot of favorite family names I wanted to use. By 16 I thought I cared more about music than most other things, though I also considered being a writer, and I enjoyed acting. I didn’t know, really. She thinks of teaching English or music, of learning Japanese and finding a career that uses the language, of being a psychologist or a doctor. We’ve talked about all of those just in the past week.

Fear not! I didn’t know what a girl could do, or rather I didn’t know a girl could do what I am doing now. I don’t know if my Birthday Twin, DK will read this — we are recent Facebook friends — but as a very little girl, even before the markers and the legal pads, I wanted to be his mother when I grew up, to be Mrs. K. )And literally, too. I believed he would be a minister, like his dad, and I would be the minister’s wife, Mrs. K the Next Generation.)

Oh, she was lovely and smart and kind! I simply adored her. In a time when most of the mothers I knew, and absolutely most of the minister’s wives, made home and church their work, I knew very few who did anything else. Mrs. F was a painter; shocking! (She painted nudes.) Mrs. K started the school at our church; it began with preschool and kindergarten. This must have seemed acceptable. This bright young woman, and I realize now she must have been very, very young, found a way to balance family life and church and going on to get her own graduate degrees, to write books about parenting and to teach early childhood education at a university.

And I still want to be like her, even though I mean it differently. I love the way she attended to her personal life and expressed her good gifts fully with the intention of making the world a better place, by helping parents and teachers relate sensitively to children.

I have no doubt that the first step on that journey was an encounter with the holy.

District 2 001Now, just as I don’t hang onto the dream of a Big My Daddy writing out a plan for me on his heavenly yellow pad of paper, I don’t have a limited view of what it means for something to be holy. What moves you? What lights you up inside?

Yesterday, LP sang in the District Chorus Festival. It was her first time doing that kind of thing, coming together with an unfamiliar conductor and singers to make music for two days and then perform it. Because there are so many more girls than boys, they have a Treble Choir of 9th and 11th grade girls and a Mixed Chorus of 10th and 12th grade girls who sing with all the boys. That Treble Choir, wow! The conductor got sounds from them that made me gasp, that made me feel hot inside, that made the top of my head tingle! That was holy, holy, holy. In the place where ineffable graces meet human gifts expressed with pure intention, there is holiness.

I’ve been blessed to have so many of those moments with my three children, to see them act and dance and hear them sing and play music, to see them shine with a holiness that is also wholeness.

Your holiness may vary.

That’s okay. God used Isaiah’s gifts of speech and Paul’s gifts of zeal and Peter’s gifts for drawing in a catch, and our gifts will be used, too. We just have to get up off our knees and go, go out or deeper or back to school or onto the next thing. We have the gifts we need. Holy, holy, holy, God of love and majesty, All that is Good, draws us onward.

I’m hoping that when I someday look back over the long arc of my life, when I make my own list in some digital format made to look like my dad’s legal pads, I’ll be able to say I did grow up to be like Mrs. K, and like Peter and Paul and Isaiah and all the people who have been brave enough to follow,to use their best gifts in the full knowledge of their greatest weaknesses. I hope I’ll be able to say I followed.

A-Croc-Alypse Now, Call, Chez Songbird, If I Were Preaching, Interim Ministry, Ministry of the Meantime, Preaching

Saturday Night Thoughts

  • Communion WafersIt'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.

Bearnaise Sauce Dogs, Call, Grief, Interim Ministry

Missing Piece

Sam Dogbook

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. 

31 Raffaello-trionfo di galatea

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.

A-Croc-Alypse Now, Call, Church Life, Emerging, New Church

Thought for the Day

"The time will come when the Christian faith will have to fight for the right of way among crowding antagonists as vigorously as in the times of Athanasius and Augustine. And in thoughts like these all genuine Christians must rejoice. Without the call to high adventure, the faith has never flourished."

~Vida Scudder, 1912

(As cited in "A People History of Christianity," by Diana Butler Bass)

Mulling this over, friends.

Call, Midway, Ministry, Ministry of the Meantime, New Church, Preaching

Mind, Fully

(Thinking about Proper 18B, Mark 7:24-37)

Even though I used to say I was a "writer who preaches" rather than a "preacher who writes," I find without the deadline of preaching I did not write much this week. That may be in large measure because it was a busy week with a lot of meetings and conversations and the beginning of high school, which in itself was a source of things about which to write.

Maybe those things would have found themselves in a sermon, some of them, anyway. I try to live mindful of Sunday, sorting what might work from what will not.

Even though I wasn't preaching this week, I read the scriptures for tomorrow, studied them with my preacher group and used one of them at a gathering of Sunday School teachers on Thursday night. We used the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman as an opening for talking about times when we didn't want to listen to or talk to anyone anymore, a time we brushed someone off and later wished we hadn't.

I met with people to talk about trying to do church in different ways, both within an existing church and in potential new communities of faith.

I met with my successor at Small Church. He has been there for a year, and we both had a sense that the timing was finally right to compare notes.

I watched "For the Bible Tells Me So" with Y1P's ONA committee and attended a workshop sponsored by the MCLU and put on by HRC on how to talk about Marriage Equality.

I also watched a video clip that made me wonder if I should call myself any kind of a preacher.

I met with two candidates for ordination at different points along the journey, read and discussed one ordination paper and one senior project (Hi, RevDisco!).

Really, it was a full week even without a sermon to prepare. And I had a great, quiet Saturday, spending lots of time with Pure Luck, who leaves in two weeks for a two month job in the Southwest.

But. I miss it. I miss the feeling of completion when various threads of the week weave together into 1500 or so words with (hoped for) meaning.

So instead of a sermon tonight, I'm posting this somewhat self-serving recitation of the week's events, to make a shorthand record of them. I suspect it was a week that I will say mattered, when I look back from some distance, but in the midst of it there was no room to review what happened, what was said, what was heard, what was felt.

Which brings me back to Jesus. He wanted to get away, to be alone, perhaps to pray or to process or just to stop thinking and giving for a little while. LP read somewhere that Jesus was an INFJ (her Myers-Briggs type, too, as it happens), and if he was an introvert, then I can understand his need. But I am not, and what I need is a friend, or friends, who will let me talk it all through until the pieces of whatever it is I need to learn will fall into place.

And really,that's what happened to Jesus, too, one of those moments, except the conversation took place with a stranger and he figured it out faster than the ordinary mortal bird seems to be doing this week. It's Chapter 7 of 16 in Mark's gospel, and the man who works wonders, then escapes to rest and recuperate, will be pushed to the next level of his life and his ministry and his self-understanding. He'll heal a little girl at a distance, and she will represent his recognition that God's love is for everyone, not just Israel. He will hear, I believe, what God wanted him to hear all along, and he will go right on to help someone else be able to hear, too.

If this were a sermon, I would be asking where the Good News is in this story, but it seems to tell itself: there is more to learn, to realize, to internalize and metabolize and embody and enact. We're not finished yet. I am grateful for that, even as I struggle to sort through it all on a Saturday night, late, mind and heart full of possibilities.

Call, Ministry

Be Transformed

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your
minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and
(Romans 12:2)

It was about this time two or maybe three years ago that I went to church on a Sunday afternoon and came home questioning just what God wanted me to do and why I was in a preaching ministry in the first place.

Oh, I knew I could *write* a sermon. But my small voice frustrated me. And my dependence on my text, on my confidence in my writing, worried me.

Truly, truly, I say unto you, I was jealous of my friend, RevFun, and his relaxed style of worship leadership and his noteless preaching and his big voice. Now, logically I know I cannot sound like a man, and I know his style is suited to his congregation and wasn't necessarily to mine, and I know a lot of other things about why I shouldn't have let that bother me so much, but it did.

I'm not sure how we figure out what God wants us to do without at least some reference to the world's standards, but even as I type that, I want to say "no" to it. Can it be true that the only real standard is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect? These are the things that matter to God, but God is not always represented on search committees.

And we can surely say, well, we wouldn't want to go to those churches, anyway. And no one does, but someone has to, mostly.

Sometimes when I speak on the same program as a person with a big voice I feel like I belong on the Island of Misfit Pastors. What is this short little woman with the damaged vocal cord and the wispy voice doing in a pulpit? Could it be possible that this is where God wants me? And if so, how is that good and acceptable and perfect? It might be good OR acceptable OR perfect (less likely), but those "ands" worry me.

Technology helps. By the time I left Main Street Church, I felt like a pretty good preacher. But a few months with less effective sound and I am left wondering if more than a few can hear me, and if that's the case, what's the point?

While I was on vacation, the work began to put in a new sound system at First Parish, and perhaps I'll feel better when it's up and running, but tonight I stood next to my friend Wise Cellist in her sanctuary, and did a two-voice reading with her, and she sounded like, well, she sounded like a cello, played by a master, and I sounded like an E-flat clarinet played by an inexperienced 9th grader. I know how I want things to sound, but they come out sounding too light and not at all authoritative and just weak.

I have better days, I know that's true, but on the whole, I remain wispy. And so I wonder, why does God want this bird to preach when people's ears are tuned to deeper tones?

And I wonder, do I have this all wrong?

Maybe I'm too busy wishing to be conformed and not eager enough to be transformed.