Gospel of Mark, Lent, Reflectionary

That escalated quickly (Mark 1:16-28)

Lots happens in chapter 1 of Mark, and the words used to describe what happens show that they happen with speed and energy. Right away, immediately, suddenly – four fishermen leave their work to follow him, they all go to synagogue, a person with an unclean spirit screams at the sight of Jesus.

That escalated quickly. Will fishing for people always be so dramatic? Who is this guy? What have we gotten ourselves into, man?

In a time of both spiritual and material emergency, I wonder if we can take some solace in knowing the first disciples, despite being water-wise, had to immediately realize they were in over their heads. Suddenly they saw they were attached to someone unpredictable. Right away he was drawing attention; surely they had been seen with him?

The whole story of the disciples in Mark is about not understanding, asking the wrong questions, acting from wrongheaded impulses, and hiding from the truth.

But without being impulsive and a little boneheaded, I wonder if any of us would follow?

Holy One, help me see how I am like those first followers, and sweep me up with you immediately, suddenly, right away … before I can hide myself away. Amen.


I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent. Want to read along? I’m using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I am also referring to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible. Tomorrow I’ll be reading Mark 1:29-45. Full schedule can be found here.

Denial is My Spiritual Practice, Reflectionary, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Rheumatoid Disease

What’s she saying?

Early Tuesday morning, I started reading The Wisdom of the Body: A Contemplative Journey to Wholeness for Women, by Christine Valters Paintner, who some of you may recognize as the Abbess of Abbey of the Arts, an early member of the RevGals blogging community. I met her ten years ago when she was visiting Maine, and we had lunch together in a coastal town. We talked about our work, and when she spoke to me about living with Rheumatoid Arthritis, neither of us knew I was weeks away from the crippling flare that would lead to my diagnosis with the same disease.

In Chapter One, I read about Yin Yoga, and then I looked up when my local yoga studio offers it – Sunday morning, during church time – and then I thought about my lonely yoga mat rolled up behind the laundry hamper, and Jessamyn Stanley’s book, Every Body Yoga, with her great descriptions and photos of poses, and I put the book mark in and went on with my day.

(One of the ways I cope with having physical difficulties is pretending I don’t have them until I can’t fake it anymore.)

When I went to take a shower, the first foot in slid toward the far end of the tub. I grabbed for the bar on the wall but I could not stop myself, only hang on as tight as possible. Somehow I pulled the other leg in after me. Awkwardly arranged on the floor of the tub, with the water pouring down, I continued to hold that bar. I got my knees under me. Everything hurt, but nothing seemed to be cracked or split, and my head was still above the rest of me, other than that arm extended to keep clinging to what I considered the safest thing in my vicinity.

I spent a long time after my RA diagnosis trying to parse what happened to me, why I had to live with this particular condition, what it might mean for my vocation, my family, my life expectancy. I admire the way Christine writes about the wisdom of the body, but I find it hard to listen to mine. This week I don’t have much choice.

More like Yank Yoga...I’ve been joking about it, ever since I was sure I was going to be able to get up and out of the shower again. “I was reading about Yin Yoga, but that was more like Yank Yoga!” “I don’t think I’ll try out for that Senior Cheerleading class!” “I strained muscles I didn’t know I had!”

But it’s no joke that I was scared, scared enough to call my wife at her office, and scared enough sounding that she came straight home. It’s not joke that I’ve spent the past few days more aware of how my body feels than I usually let myself be. What’s she saying?

“Girl, slow down.”

I don’t want to hear that.

“I know, I know. You did a good job hanging on, though.”

I guess that’s something.


~adapted from my essay for the RevGals Weekly e-Reader~

Lent, Mark, Reflectionary

Mark read-along for Lent

Reading Mark duringLentI’m planning to read the Gospel of Mark during Lent and invite you to join me. You’ll find the schedule here.

Reading through Luke and writing about it was a great discipline for me last year. As a preacher, I found there were certain sections found in the Revised Common Lectionary that I knew well, and other parts to which I had never paid close attention. I *think* I know Mark better, but I look forward to finding surprises and new insights.

Advent, Reflectionary, The Inner Landscape

Winter Wonderland

The monthly specials at my favorite office away from home, Cornerstone Coffeehouse.

I write this from the draftiest location in my favorite local coffee shop, overcrowded as everything seems to be in the onrush of Christmas. I spent the morning reading blogs written by clergywomen, mostly, and thinking about all the pastors I know while drinking a holiday-themed beverage called “Winter Wonderland.” My morning included a trip to the Post Office to send off one overdue package, one present I hope will come as a surprise to the recipient, and a padded envelope full of stocking stuffers for my daughter in Japan (the cost of the postage affixed thereunto being something I will have to explain when I get home).

My responsibilities are different from the past few years, as I am not serving a church, and I’ll admit that feels strange. I wonder if it isn’t true that having to craft and curate experiences for other people gave me a sense of purpose that made the mixed-up world feel closer to manageable. After all, if I accomplished Advent wreath liturgies and multiple bulletins for special services with all their moving parts, I had control over my little sliver of the universe.

Beautiful artwork by Hannah Garrity of A Sanctified Art, amateur coloring job by yours truly.

This Advent I am busy with other things and missing the familiar ones dearly. I am trying to look at my faith life as a regular person’s faith life. I’ve been coloring in the devotional booklet put together by the wonderful women artists of A Sanctified Art. This morning’s reading was from Psalm 80; those words and I have a long history of meditations, sermons, devotions I have written. They have lived inside my head.

Our meeting today was different. I don’t need to unpack them for anyone else, or embroider them for any liturgical or homiletical need to be met. I was able to let the words and the colored pencils work their way with me. In the loss of a familiar role, there is the luxury of being no one in particular this Advent.

Of course, I am sharing *that* thought with you. As the other preacher at my house said on Facebook just this morning, everything is sermon material.

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Children, Church Life, Family, Reflectionary

Why would anyone go to church now?

“Why would anyone go to church now?”

The Boy wondered this, watching the news about the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas. He has reached the age where he hears about the news at school, so we have become more open to having him hear and see things on TV, rather than trying to shield him from the hard things that happen. We need to be able to answer his questions ourselves. I don’t know if you have heard the common talk of 7th grade boys lately, but it definitely requires some counter-influences.

“Why would anyone go to church now?” He asked us again. “The doors are unlocked! Anyone could come in.”

It’s true that in church we are a special flock of sitting ducks, focused in one direction, both physically and spiritually. I rarely look around in church, when I am sitting in the pews, other than when we pass the peace. I estimate how large a crowd is behind me by the sounds they make. I’m trying not to seem overly interested in who is late, or whose children are making noise; I’m trying to be a good pastor’s wife.

Up front, as the pastor and preacher, it’s different. I’m counting heads, noting who is missing. But even then, I am not worrying about disaster, or I haven’t been, even though I know Kathryn has a plan in case someone dangerous comes into the sanctuary.

Experts offering their two cents worth on cable news recommended that churches review their emergency plans and look into security systems of staffing appropriate to their size and situation. Maybe, they suggested, someone in the congregation is already wearing a weapon to worship.

I know this is true in some of my colleague’s congregations.

“Why would anyone go to church now?”

It’s not clear yet what the shooter’s relationship to religion was. His social media accounts were quickly archived, but not so fast that some bad actors didn’t have a chance to create alternative “likes” and loyalties for him. What does seem to be clear is that a man with a history of domestic violence threatened his mother-in-law, and then he shot up the church she attended. This morning the President suggested that had a neighbor not fired at the shooter, there might have been hundreds of deaths. A better guess is had he not been given chase, his next stop would have been his mother-in-law’s house.

“Why would anyone go to church now?”

We did our best to reassure The Boy, pointing out that the shooter did not choose a church at random. I’m not sure how comforting that is, really. How was a guy who cracked his infant stepson’s skull out on the street to do this? He choked his wife; he punched his dog. Why don’t we take these clusters of behavior seriously? We don’t because we undervalue harm done to women/children, overvalue white men and their chance of a future. This is magnified when we add race, sexual orientation, gender identity to the victim side of the equation.

The permission given to this man to keep assaulting other people, the pattern of abuse he inflicted on others before Sunday, the ready availability of a weapon that can kill, terribly, so many people, so quickly – all these factors remain for other abusers, other men who cannot manage their anger or their disappointment or their frustration, who cannot resist the temptation of power and have the means available to deal out death.

Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD. (Joshua 24:15)

It might not be fair for me to make suggestions about what churches should do about their security when I am not serving one right now. Our own history as people of faith is problematic. Joshua and his house pledged to serve the Lord, but in the Promised Land, they used all their available weapons and powers to kill the people they saw as enemies, and to gain the land they wanted. They saw being the chosen ones as permission to deal out death. We should not be surprised that righteousness and power have been confused and conflated throughout human history.

Why would anyone go to church now? Our boy doesn’t drop his questions until he gets a satisfying answer, and he usually asks them again, just to be sure. We will go because it’s what we do, just like we ride on a bike path, or go to the movies, or attend a concert. We will go because most of us cannot maintain the kind of hyper-vigilance required to be on watch at all times. We will go because we want to be with the people we know and love. We will go for solace, and solidarity.

That is not enough.

I’m not saying this is easy. In the United States, we worship our guns like no other nation in the world, and some will say more guns are the answer. I do not believe this. We need to be direct in saying the god of guns is a false god. As much as I believe Jesus is among the grieving, I believe he is also pressing on his church to engage with the powers and principalities and say “No more!” Our culture privileges the powerful; often our church culture does the same. Yet we know Jesus proclaimed a preferential option for people who are marginalized and oppressed. We need the church to be a place where we talk about why mass shootings happen. We need to have those conversations and let God be part of them. We need to decide whether the church will be not just a voice speaking but a body acting to bring change in human priorities and understanding. If we have any power left as an institution, we must work together for good, in Jesus’s name.

I could stay screened here across the street, watching for unfamiliar vehicles and people, but I want more than the safe view from my window.

As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.

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Orientation, Reflectionary

Queerfully Made

I’m giving thanks for the whole queer family today.

We are pastors, soldiers, legislators, moms and dads, single people, educators, coaches, artists, musicians, welders, bureaucrats, athletes, and administrators. We are tired, we are wrinkled, we are smooth and young; we are beautiful. We are young urban radicals, comparatively dull suburbanites, and hardworking outdoorsy folk. We are every race and shade, every shape and size, all religions and none.

We are funny, and sympathetic, and no better dancers than the rest of you, and sadly some are really terrible people, because we are human.

File Oct 31, 11 24 28 AMWe are the ones people look at twice and the ones people never identify as LGBTQIA+. We are the young cashier at the drive-through, and the brilliant professor in high heels, and the linebacker who hits the hardest, and the butch who looks smoking in a black t-shirt, and the spruce executive with the beautiful neckties, and at least one silver-haired mama wearing pearls and drinking a mocha at your local Starbucks.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made, in the image of God, whose diversity is beyond human imagining, categories, prejudices, and phobias.

Family, Mothering, Reflectionary

Jesus, Be a Shelter!

I would be having a better evening if not worrying about North Korea, and our President, and my daughter, LP, who is in Japan. At these times, I remind myself how many other moms are also worrying, sending their kids to school in Japan, where it is tomorrow morning. LP is there teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren. It is a dream come true for her. But should she be there?

“When does it become too dangerous for US citizens?” is not the right question; it’s too dangerous for everyone, everywhere.

I guess this means we keep doing our work, living our lives, and whether that’s hopeful or foolish I do not know. I do know she loves it there. Today she might be teaching vocabulary to the elementary children who giggle and ask if she is popular “with the boys,” or coaching middle schoolers as they prepare to make speeches in English. She will work with the other teachers to protect the students in any emergency, because that is what teachers do.

She is far from Hokkaido, which is in the flight path for these missiles. Last time we talked about it, she had no idea where she would shelter if an alert went out for her region. She lives on the edge of town, near a rice field.

We are none of us safe. Violence won’t prevent violence. And you can’t fix crazy. I know some think God has worked a divine purpose through wars and human leaders, yet we are warned not to put our faith in mortals and princes. I’ve never admired the ones who threaten, who brag about their strength and power. Real courage lives in the ones who spread their wings over the chicks.

Cover us, Lord. Jesus, be a shelter! Not only for my child, but for all God’s children.