What’s Next?

Smith College MomThis morning, we get in the car and travel to a small town in Massachusetts, which will be over-filled with parents and other relatives gathering to participate in graduation ceremonies at four colleges. Our daughter will graduate from Smith on Sunday morning, and in the ongoing competition for who had the best speaker. Mine years ago was Garry Trudeau at the height of Doonesbury fame; #1 Son had then-Senator Obama in 2008, with Secret Service agents on the rooftops surrounding the ceremony. We all think LP wins with Oprah.

Passionate about her major, Japanese, LP will leave in July to be an Assistant Language Teacher in the JET program for a year. Or two. Or five. Although we still have one child at home, we’re clear that this is a new phase in our family life. All three of the older children are far away, and they are game pieces in motion, one of our sons swapping the East Coast of the US for the West, and the other preparing for the reverse. I keep changing the cities in my Weather app. Maybe it’s a little silly to get alerts about pollen in Los Angeles when I’m sitting at my dining room table in South Central Pennsylvania, but it reminds me that wherever we are, we all live under the same sky. And what do I expect after urging them to pursue the things they love?

A friend who served as a missionary in South Africa once told me that her aim there was to put herself out of a job, to empower the women she worked with to support themselves with the sewing and crafting her ministry helped enable. That feels like the work I’ve been doing as a parent, slowly getting out of the way, trusting that these children – no, these adults – can make their way in the world, as reasonably good members of the human community. It’s both a help and a challenge to have an understanding of call. My children watched me wrestle with my call to ministry, accompanied me through my theological education, gathered at my Commencement 15 years ago this week. Their feelings probably resembled mine now, some mixture of relief and pride and “what’s next?”

What’s next is this: Go out there and be the person God made you to be.

It’s a good word for a big day; it’s a good word for every day.


A version of this post appeared in the RevGalBlogPals Weekly e-Reader, May 18, 2017.

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Only love can do that

I’m in the strange-for-me position of being out of the pulpit for the foreseeable future, and at least for now, I am attending my wife’s church as a worshipper.

Yesterday, in the first session of a wonderful and thoughtful Sunday School on Peace, Reconciliation, and Forgiveness that includes all ages from 6th grade to Senior citizens, we were asked to share in small groups the names of people we thought of as truly good. I was proud of The Boy when he named Martin Luther King, Jr., then saddened to hear a trusted adult respond, “He was good, but he was not perfect.”

Now, this was going to be the further point of the discussion – we are all in need of God’s grace, as the Presbyterian Confession of 1967 was used to illustrate – but I felt frustrated that an adult would administer that kind of corrective to the one student in our group. No one questioned any other suggestions.

When the full class shared answers, The Boy whispered to me, “Don’t say it. Don’t say it.” My heart hurt.

img_0055Later, as we sat in our pew before worship, he picked up the bulletin and saw the quote on the cover. He pointed out the words and the name to me and said, “I wasn’t wrong!”

No, son, you were not wrong.

We went on to read portions of the Letter From Birmingham Jail as the Confession and the Statement of Faith, alongside a text from Luke reminding us that the hometown crowd tried to throw Jesus off a cliff.

Thus it has ever been with prophets, even the 6th-graders.

See Your Memories

NEC Commencement 017
#2 Son’s commencement, 2013, New England Conservatory

At my house, Facebook’s daily memories take us back in time to lives before the life we have now. I brought to our marriage the kids we call “the olders,” and they appear in this season wearing mortarboards and graduation gowns and prom attire. My stepson, in my mind, begins as the toddler son of a friend, but in my public life, he appears later, a schoolboy, in baseball uniform, or walking our puppy. The separate time zones of our memories remind me how new this life is still.

Sometimes I miss the old spaces: the house in Maine on a street with an esplanade of maple trees, the place where we picked up donuts, the beach where I walked my dogs of blessed memory. At the same time I am thankful for the new life, for the blending of two families into one, for the hope represented by God’s power to make me see myself and my world differently even at midlife. I am thankful.

Holy One, give us a glimpse of the future and gratitude for the present when we glance at the past. You are ever working with us and on us, and we thank you for it. Amen.

(Written originally for the RevGalBlogPals Weekly e-Reader. You can subscribe here.)

The Day When God Made Church ( book review)

Paraclete Press, 2016
Paraclete Press, 2016

The Day When God Made Church is a new children’s book from Paraclete Press, and it went to press just in time for the celebration of the holiday it describes, Pentecost. The author is a Presbyterian Church (USA) pastor, the Rev. Rebekah McLeod Hutto. The lively illustrations are by freelance artist Stephanie Haig.

The text of the book begins with the people who followed Jesus waiting to see what will happen next. Those gathered include men, women, children and animals, a microcosm of creation. The first-person plural narration draws the reader or listener into the story, as one hopes to do when reading to young children.

The animals notice something first, and then the people feel the wind of the Spirit. They respond with joy and with a range of verbal expressions:

Some with LOUD sounds,
some with quiet WHISPERS;
words like DRUMBEATS,
words that TIPTOE through the air.

The narrative continues through Peter’s sermon, which is paraphrased for a youthful understanding. We are all called upon to share the good news. The story includes references to Jesus’ ministry, and the illustrations amplify the telling with familiar symbols like loaves and fishes, a lamb, and the empty tomb.

Haig’s illustrations bring the simple text to life with swirls of color and texture. A variety of human and animal figures populate the pages, and the human – males and females across the age range – include a number of skin tones, hair colors and facial features, further embodying the idea of the book that all people are welcome to be part of the church God made and to share the good news with the world.

A photo I took of two of the pages. Don't you love the quizzical dog?
A photo I took of two of the pages. Don’t you love the quizzical dog?

While I don’t find it hard to tell the Pentecost story, and therefore haven’t looked for books to use with children, I really like Hutto’s approach, both theologically and pedagogically. It would be a great book to use for a children’s message in worship or in a Sunday School setting, and certainly appropriate at home as well. The illustrations are fun. They invite curiosity. I particularly appreciate the quirkiness shown by including animals throughout. They are a great way to keep children engaged with the overall story.

As is always true with books from Paraclete, the quality of the book is beautiful. Although it is a paperback, the paper is nice quality and feels good to hold in your hand.

I recommend The Day When God Made Church for church and home libraries, as well as the bookshelves of pastors and Christian educators.

*****

I received a review copy of the book from Paraclete in exchange for my honest assessment. This review originally appeared at RevGalBlogPals.

Tech Sabbath (a prayer for pastors)

Spirit of God,
You move like the wind,
are everywhere,
in everything.

But we are not looking for you
when our noses are bent toward
small screens and large,
when our eyes cross
and vision fades
after hours of studying
tiny images
held in our hands.

We know this, but it was a shock
when the 11-year-old said,
“Hey, maybe we could all
take a break from electronics!”

Hmmm. People might need us for something.
Suppose there is an actual emergency?
How can we arrange this?
Phones in a basket on the counter?
(We know the difference between
the ringer and a Facebook chime,
a tweet, a Bleacher Report update.)

After church, said the clergy parents.
After church, until Monday morning.

Today, may we find peace
in some Sabbath hours
unbusily spent
reading,
playing games,
going for a walk,
looking each other
in the eye,
looking for You.

The kind of mother I want to be

On NPR they told the story
Of helicopter parent glory:
Moms and dads of grown-ups calling
Corporations to ask why they are failing
Evaluations and reviews —
Because it all reflects on who?

Perhaps they fear the future for them,
Comfortable kids who may be poor then.
We are punch lines of late-night jokes
And not the least bit like our folks
Who sent us off and wished us well.
Instead we hover, raising hell.

LP on her way to Vespers at Smith.
LP on her way to Vespers at Smith.

The kind of mother I want to be
Flies in when asked, and just to see
The way she dresses for the concert,
His gold tie jaunty with the black shirt,
A glimpse of mustache (is it curled?),
The ways they move in their own worlds.

These observations aren’t just surface,
They give a sense of inner purpose
A frame of mind, a turn of heart,
A choice to take the better part
All show the people they’ve become,
the things they carry learned at home.

Admittedly I miss the times they
sat and told me of their dramas,
making me feel like Wonder Mama.
I think they hesitate to say
the things that matter, which then might
move out of dream and into sight.

If you tell your mother, it must be true,
that conclusion you’ve held for only you.
I love them, even tied in knots.
To help them rearrange their thoughts
Is still a loved, familiar task
But mine now only if they ask.

~~~~~~~~

(Inspired by a conversation between Krista Tippett and Brene Brown.)

It Goes By So Fast

I try to keep worship to an hour, even when we have Communion, so I have a side-eye on the clock and move certain things along, but my intention is always to have the time when the congregation comes forward feel time-less. I look each person in the eye as I give the bread, and then they pass to the right or left to dip it in one of the cups being held by a Deacon. But for some reason, today they seemed to barrel toward me, in twos, barely giving me a chance to connect — which is not for me, but feels like an important pastoral act.

It felt like withdrawing.

In three more weeks, we’ll engage in a liturgy of farewell, releasing and forgiving one another. I worked on the order of service this afternoon, and it felt heavy. Saying goodbye well matters.

But it goes by so fast.

It’s the same with mothering. LP and I have pushed up the date of separation as we prepare for my move to Pennsylvania and hers around a few corners to her dad’s house, but it was coming soon anyway, in a matter of months.

As the congregation came up the aisle, so quickly, in such a hurry, I told myself I could not think about how it is the last time.

And then came LP, in the midst of the other choir members, her long hair shining. She looks down at me now, even in flats, wise in some ways beyond her years, and for a fraction of a moment I remembered her sweet little girl face as a seven-year-old, coming up to take Communion from me for the first time, and I felt the pricking of a tear…

and I told myself to stop it. Stop.It.

There will be other times, other times I can say to her, “The Body of Christ, broken for you.” I’ll land somewhere, eventually, and she’ll visit, and there will be Communion, and we will be in it together again.

But it goes by so fast, the days left in this house tumbling toward me like the hurrying communicants, the months until college like a wave racing to break on the shore. We’re both eager for the future — I think I can say that — and anxious about logistics and trying to get a lot of work done in a short time (packing/sorting/disposing for me; college applications for her).

There are many things I will miss, but here’s what surprises me. I grieve a little that the regular intimacy of congregational life will not likely be ours again.

Does that sound like an odd thing to say? We’ve been making the journey to church together every Sunday, just about, for her whole life. When I became a pastor ten years ago, she became a part of the ministry team. I value her reflections on human interactions in the congregation, and her critiques of my sermons and messages for the children. I value her company, the ways in which she accompanies me.

This day was coming, anyway. But I never expected my empty nest to be the Communion table.