Call, Ministry

What I’m Praying

I realize that my blog friends may wonder why I've been unusually quiet. It's because I'm engaged in a job search, and I can't write about it in this public forum. 

But I think I can tell you about what I've been praying, for some time now.

When I first went to visit Andover Newton in 1992, the text used in worship was Isaiah 6. It was the first time I sang, "Here I Am, Lord," and the text and the hymn inspired me throughout seminary.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8, NRSV)

But all I really assented to was going to seminary. I had my fingers crossed about whatever was coming next. I hoped, hoped, hoped I could be faithful to God's calling without disarranging other lives, or having people be upset with me. 

Despite that tendency, which has absolutely continued, about six months ago, I started praying, almost without meaning to, "Here am I; send me."

I'm still praying, "Send me," and trusting that the rest will sort itself out, in God's time, in God's way. 

Your prayers appreciated.

Call, If I Were Preaching

A Large Spread Sheet Out

Peter's Vision
This morning, reading something before my eyes opened fully, I read a phrase about tomorrow's Acts passage referring to a "large sheet spread out" before us. 

The text is Peter's dream, his vision or trance about a sheet being lowered from heaven covered with all sorts of animals. I love the story, but this week was the first time I looked at art portraying the sheet. Until now the image resided only in my mind. 

Now I've seen this, and I've mused on the friendly faces of the stained glass animals. I've thought about the rules we set up for our communities and our own lives and the way they may structure us out of love.

It's an old story–I've told it before, I feel sure–that I once sat with the family of my friend, Paige, excited to be sitting with someone other than my people while "home" from Northern Virginia and going to church at Court Street Baptist in Portsmouth, the church of my mother, and my mother's mother and her mother, too. It's my first memory of the Communion trays being passed, and I watch what everyone does as it comes toward us down the long, curved pews in that dark, beautiful sanctuary. I watch what everyone does, and I practice in my mind how I will pick up the little piece of bread, although I don't know what it's for, exactly. 

I did not excel at paying attention to the soft-spoken minister.

The tray came closer and I lifted my hand and suddenly Paige hissed, "Noooo!!!!!!!" I looked at her surprised, and more than surprised, humiliated, as she continued, "That's not for us!"

I'm not sure how long it was before I realized it was not our age that excluded us, but our lack of the key to inclusion in that community, baptism. 

As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, 'Get up, Peter; kill and eat.'  But I replied, 'By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.' But a second time the voice answered from heaven, 'What God has made clean, you must not call profane.' This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. (Acts 11:6-10, NRSV)

Peters-vision-doug-jaques I guess this image speaks more of trance, of triune recognition, of an altered mind.

We've been watching Lost, and last night I saw some of the recent episodes for a second time. There's a scene from "Happily Ever After" that shows flash-sideways Desmond and Charlie sitting in a bar, and they have this exchange.

CHARLIE: Well, cheers then. Tell me perky, are you happy?


CHARLIE: No you're not.

DESMOND: Well, I've got a great job, lots of money, get to travel the world. Why wouldn't I be happy?

CHARLIE: Have you ever been in love?

DESMOND: Thousands of times.

CHARLIE: That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about spectacular, consciousness-altering love. Do you know what that looks like?

DESMOND: I wasn't aware that love looked like anything.

CHARLIE: I've seen it, mate. On the plane back from Sydney.

DESMOND: Is that so? Well we were on the same flight, so…maybe I saw it too.

CHARLIE: Trust me, you didn't.

Peter's vision altered his consciousness. It altered his mind and his heart, and he came to understand that this love Jesus instructed the disciples to show for one another (see the companion reading in John 13) belonged to more than just the people the rules tell us to love. 

'What God has made clean, you must not call profane.'

When I was in seminary, I made a lot of rules for myself, about how to balance my call to God and my call to being a mother. I spent a lot of time condemning myself for having ambition. That's not to say I didn't have it! I still do, though I think my sense of what would be a successful expression of my call is less about climbing a professional ladder and more about faithful use of my gifts for ministry. But it's never entirely clear, not for me. I always worry that I will reach my hand out and hear the hissed, "Noooo," this time from some cosmic voice.

That's why I'm glad to have an antidote for my anxiety in the person of Peter, the beautiful example of how many times we can course correct on the faith journey.

When I read the quoted line above this morning, this is how I saw it:

"A large Spreadsheet out" before us.

My current search, wider than any I've undertaken before, is recorded on a spreadsheet. It's columns describing when I sent my profile and when I received one from a church and when there was a phone call, all attempting to organize what really cannot be organized. When the connection is the right one, there will be love and certainty, and the bread will be shared by all.

Call, Church Life, Emerging

Spiritual, not…

Starbucks We met in a coffee shop on a rainy Saturday morning, the
wind blowing the bare trees across the way. They wanted to get married, but
although both grew up Catholic, they had decided against being married by a
priest. I asked why, then, they were talking to a pastor? Why not simply ask a
Justice of the Peace, or find a notary to do the paperwork? And they answered
with the statement we hear so often these days, “We’re spiritual, but not
religious.” They believe in God, and they want their ceremony to reflect that
belief, but they don’t want it to come with the trappings and strictures of the
church that nurtured them.

“We’re spiritual, but not religious.” It’s not only young
people who say this to us, and when those of us who are religious hear it, we
almost invariably react a little defensively. What’s wrong with being
religious? In church, I hope we can be both, connected by the history and
tradition passed down to us but also in touch with the leading of the Holy
Spirit that moves among us, guiding us to new ways of being faithful to God and
to Jesus Christ.

There is no question in this second decade of the 21st
century that being church means something different than it did when I was a
little girl growing up in Virginia or in the Maine of 50 or 100 years ago. We
live in a world, for better or worse, where businesses open on Sunday, where
people carry coffee everywhere and sleep with their iPhones nestled on their
pillows, a world where weekly attendance at worship and Sunday School no longer
goes without saying. When you meet a young couple and ask if they go to church,
you’ll likely hear the same thing I heard, “We’re spiritual, but not…”

But aren’t we spiritual? I want to think I am, in the sense
that the word means to me. Like the people who define themselves that way, I’ve
experienced the transcendent in nature, walking in the woods or watching the
waves break or looking west to Mount Washington while the sun sets. But I have
also experienced the transcendent, literally something beyond my rational
understanding, in the gasp of a gorgeous toddler surprised by the handful of
water I’ve just laid on his red curls as the water runs down his forehead. Our
rituals, our sacraments, retain their power as signs of God’s presence among
us. The breaking of bread, repeated so many times, does not become dull or
repetitive, but rather becomes amplified by experience. And whether we pass the
little cups in their special trays or dip the bread into a chalice, we are both
spiritual *and* religious when we experience the presence of Christ among us, a
presence we cannot explain but can feel in our hearts and souls.

I think what we’ve lacked in many mainline churches is an
inclination to talk about what our faith means to us, unless we’re in a very
safe space or a moment of crisis. We’ve allowed the world to think we are
simply religious, engaging in practices that are simply old-fashioned,
something your grandmother does, not necessary for today’s world. When we close
in on ourselves and insist on doing everything the way we’ve always done it
before, when we hold to habits and traditions for their own sake, we write our
own epitaph. When we’re reserved about the deeper reality of our faith lives—our
spiritual lives—we miss the chance to connect with others.

And that’s what people are hungry for, what they are seeking
on the Internet and in coffee shops, something they don’t believe we even care
about in the average church of Congregational heritage. Really, they don’t even
know what that heritage means. But we do. We know it means the freedom to
figure out for ourselves who God is and how we understand the life of Jesus. It
means agreeing to disagree when the person sitting down the pew from us sees
Christ a little differently. It means leaving each other enough breathing room
that the Spirit has some space to move among us.

In this second decade of this 21st century, I
believe we’re being called to let our friends and neighbors know that church is
not quaint or forgettable but real and meaningful, that the connections we make
with one another and the world through worship and service make our lives
richer and deeper. I believe we’re being called to speak up and tell our
stories, to share the ways God has touched our lives: in art and music, in
nature and in relationships, and even in church. When we are ready to share it,
the world will see we are spiritual *and* religious.