Archive for September, 2007

Last night I met with a group of women who I would consider solid members of the church. They, however, would tell you they come to our church but aren’t exactly sure where or how they fit in. These are women who have served on committees and even have headed them up, yet they are still unsure of their relationship to the church. On first glance I might ask how this can be when they are so obviously part of the fabric of the life of this congregation? But. But then I remember how I sometimes felt in my home church growing up, and especially after I went off to college. I always felt awkward, and very much like I was hanging out in a place I wasn’t quite supposed to be. Like I didn’t belong. Maybe I wasn’t cool enough to be there. Maybe I wasn’t good enough to be there. Maybe I just didn’t fit. Even still, this was the church where I first felt a call to ministry. I was heavily involved (youth group, choir, Sunday School, the whole bit) but I still didn’t feel like I belonged. Looking back I might just chalk it up to the angst of youth, but there are times I still feel that way. And evidently, so do a lot of people.

These women met to form a small group for study about 2 years ago. They each describe it as a life changing experience. They enjoy reading books that don’t seem to be at the mainstream of church culture. A favorite topic has been the divine feminine and the spiritual life of women. They consider their interest DWL- dark, weird and lovely. They consider themselves to be dark, weird and lovely. yet, I was comfortable enough with them in this short hour and half to feel like I was bonding with them. I even danced their silly joy dance at the end. It was good.

I think that really these women are not alone in their feeling of not quite fitting in. I think, truth be told, that most of the people in church probably feel that to some degree. The question is, how do we (I) create a place for these women, and others, to be themselves with each other and God. How do we(I) create a place for them to feel rooted in the church? How do I help them, and myself even, to feel that this community of faith needs them and that they are vital to it? How can we be authentic together?

One of the things that has stuck with me the most from seminary has been a statement from a book by Kennon Callahan (Twelve Keys to an Effective Church). He says that people long to be “known by name and missed when absent.” If ever there was a truth of the human need to belong, this is it. We want to know that we matter. That things really are different and better because we, each of us individually, are part of something. The challenge is making it so that everyone feel these same things and makes an effort to engage each other in a manner so as to make them feel the same way. Affirmed, appreciated, loved, known, belonging.


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Getting All Emotional

So yesterday I had preaching duty at both services, and because the Gospel was the Parable of the Good Shepherd I just had to present the Parable Godly Play style for the children’s sermon. It was so good to be able to use Godly Play, especially in the 2nd service where the children who came forward were younger and really got into the story. It was a moment of pure mystery. After the service one of the girls came up to me to ask if we would be doing that (Godly Play type children’s sermon) every week. I told her my plan is to bring Godly Play to the church starting in January as a children’s church program, or rather ministry. I really dislike calling church things “programs”. Aren’t most things we do really ministries by intent?

Anyway, I preached on sin and how we in the church need to create an environment where people can freely confess their sins and expect to receive support and encouragement to overcome them. What surprised me was how emotional I got when I started talking about the kinds of things we need to confess to each other. And I’m not one who normally turns on the waterworks when I preach. In fact I normally find that type of emotional display to be disingenuous and manipulative. So I quickly got myself under control and harnessed my passion over the issue in a more appropriate way.

But really, it is an emotional issue. And my sermon was a bit of a lament, both for me as a pastor and fellow sinner; and if I truly believe what I preach, it is an emotional issue for God. God did create us to bear one another’s burdens, Christ told us this. And if we follow the biblical story, we know that Christ commissioned his disciples to be bearers of the Good News and to be healers. We have inherited this legacy and the gifts for healing.

I had several comments after my sermon, as well as good body language feedback during. It was also a good thing to note that the feedback came from a span of ages, not just the older folks from whom I expect a response. Even still, I was spent when it was over; kind of like a wrung out rag. Last night after dinner, I went out for my weekly grocery shopping trip to the Wal-Mart in the next town. It was one of the best Wal-Mart trips I’ve had simply because at 9 pm on a Sunday night the store is quite peaceful. There were employees restocking the shelves after the busy weekend traffic, but other than that there weren’t many people around and the background music was good. I couldn’t believe that I would find peace in the aisles of Wal-Mart. And arriving home after 10 pm, the sky was cloudless and full of stars. I could even see the Milky Way! It was like Godly Play says I “drew so close to God and God drew so close” to me. Lovely!

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Lost Sheep

I’m preaching tomorrow on the parable of the Lost Sheep from Luke 15. What gets me about preaching lately is that I keep meeting myself in the message. What I mean is, the message I set out to preach is ultimately one I need to hear myself. Perhaps that’s the way it’s suposed to be. Does it mean my message is authentic, or relevant, at least is it for others and not just myself?

So where I’m going with this sermon is to the point that, on the outside, we’d probably all like to say that we are not the lost sheep. But the truth I suspect is on the inside, we are all lost sheep in desparate need of the Good Shepherd to come and find us. We all need to be met where we are, to confess our sins, repent and be healed. And not just that, but we need our repentance and healing to be celebrated, not just by the angels, but by those on earth who know our struggles.

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A Bill of Goods

I’ve been here two months now and it’s amazing how much better my old life and job look from my new one. Not that there weren’t things that challenged me or made me unhappy there, truly there was plenty! But I knew the opposition there and had developed ways to handle it. I knew the factors. And I had overcome some of them enough to be making progress in positive ways. Here, I am learning who and what the issues are and getting little slaps in the face from my new antagonists. And I am learning that Search Committees have a way of selling you a bill of goods. Yesterday and today are those days when I want to run screaming out of here and never come back. Why can’t people get along, and why does it seem that churches attract those people who need to build their own empires and haven’t been successful anywhere else?

I had a tumor removed back in the spring. I thought it was gone and that I would be able to have my life back as well as a story of healing to share. Unfortunately, the great healing I sought was both physical and spiritual and doesn’t seem to have come about as fully as I hoped. I am trying to come to terms with this new life my husband has dragged me into. I’m trying to celebrate the good things that have happened. I’m trying to fall in love with this place and these new people. And to be fair, it isn’t all bad. But it doesn’t feel like the honeymoon that anyone dreams of having when they come to a new ministry. I miss the future story I had. And I’m tired. I’m really tired.

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It has finally happened. A day I didn’t want to come. But inevitable nonetheless.

My favorite author has died. Madeleine L’Engle passed away on Thursday and I only just found out. At least there is one more new book to be released in the spring. But a great mind and marvelous storyteller and great theologian is gone. I will miss her, though I didn’t know her in person. I knew her on the page and loved her. I dreamed of meeting her, of participating in a writer’s workshop, of sitting at her master’s feet.

Still there is her legacy. I continue to read and collect her works. And I enjoy them all. My collection of L’Engle’s books lies in wait for a new bookshelf. Since moving two months ago we haven’t yet made space for all the books we have in storage. Hopefully we’ll get to that soon. I need to inventory before I buy any more books.

So to Madeleine, rest in peace, enfolded in the arms of God’s love. Thank you for your many gifts and for those who will learn a bit about theology from reading your work. Blessings and thanks. Be at peace.

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Two Sundays ago I preached for the first time at my new church. I preached about worship and how it’s important for us to worship well. I talked about the many conversations I’ve had with people in recent years about worship, especially how we tend to think and talk about worship in terms of what makes US happy; what WE get out of it; how we want it to make US feel. I asked the congregation to tell me what they want in a worship service, and as usual all of the answers were focused on what the worshipers get out of worship. Then I asked what about God? We are worshiping God after all, shouldn’t we be concerned with what God gets out of worship? Then last night, as I lay awake recovering from a horrible headache, I started thinking again about that sermon and how I could show them all how to do it right. Then it hit me! I was doing the same thing and worse yet, trying to make it look like I was doing it to please God. Yikes! Looks like I need to listen more closely to my own message. Whose kingdom am I building?

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Labor Day

Day 65- A day off! We brought the nursery school rabbit home for the weekend. Small furry things are rare in our house since we moved. I really miss having a cat now. If only the boys were less aggressive with them, I might be able to keep one happy and safe. Our old cat now lives in Colorado with my best friend. It’s funny that I feel I have a connection with him even when he’s miles away. When he was lost in the wild for 2 months, I knew he was ok but I felt him looking for me several times. After we moved in to our new house I thought I saw him under the kitchen table. There are those who would call my connection to my cat “hogwash”, but God does want us to live in harmony with all of creation so why not allow for these types of connections?

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