Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Fight. Freeze. Flight.

Did anyone else feel the pull last week? Terror rippled in cities around the world. As refugees trudge through a gauntlet of scraps and skeptical stares, handouts and hesitant hospitality, bombs exploded. And everyone felt the earth shake.

If I have to hear that ISIS “claimed responsibility” one more time, I’m going to throw up. When I use this phrase with my children, I'm suggesting the gathering up of both cause and effect, of premeditation and aftermath, of accountability that requires some vulnerability. Hospitals and schools list responsibility as a value cherished and taught. So when we use it to describe braggy terror, I get irritated and queasy.

Like many of you, I felt all of the fight, freeze flight feelings and they got jumbled up together. I wanted to run, but not away. I wanted to duke it out, but with proclamations of dignity and gospel in the face of so much fearful contraction. And I certainly froze: to weep, to listen, to wait, to hold breath with the world.

I’m still feeling all the feelings, but I know that news feeds are not what I need at the end of the day. They’re not what any of us need.

So on Monday I put my phone down and turned off the boob tube. I drove through the drizzle, taking side streets and underpasses, to a little bar in St. Paul where I knew there would be loud and wild hope. I knew there would be friendly strangers smooshed into a room singing important truths into being. 

This is what we need; to be gathered from the drizzly edges into belonging and song.

It’s hard to know what we’re supposed to do and where to start, but I think it helps to watch someone else in her element. I think it’s comforting to stand aside and notice the little ways someone else is redrawing lines and casting nets and adding chairs and saying, “Welcome”.

At Humble Walk’s Beer & Hymns, I watched Jodi do just that. She is the only pastor I know who also ushers. While musicians lead hymns and shakers are handed out and people shout out requests – “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” Survey says, “No!” - Jodi is quiet and warm near the door. She stands just outside the room where curious onlookers might gather, where shy folks assume the chairs are all taken, where people loiter on the edge of solitude and belonging.

You see, sometimes we’re thinking too big. We can feel the urge to fight or freeze or flight because the task is too heavy and the ache is too great. Then all the feelings get tangled up until we give up or give in.

But I (and perhaps you) am not called to fix everything or find the most ingenious solution to our nation’s foreign policy and immigration challenges. We are, instead, ordinary American citizens. We are people who belong to each other. We are folks who desire a greater good. And we cannot do that alone glued to our screens or hidden behind locked doors.

It is grace when we meet strangers near the door.
It is mercy to set up chairs before people need to ask.
It is Christ’s body when we gather to sing of a faith we cannot carry alone.

Promise me you will move through the drizzle toward the room in the back where strangers are already singing and setting up chairs. Promise me you will break from your lonesome discouragement and fright long enough to be together, seen by others and whispering into the chorus that all is not lost. Promise me you will stand at the edges and usher people in with welcome and warmth.

For in these kinds of gatherings, we truly "claim responsibility". We practice unity and relocate pieces of hope that inspire a multitude of tremors for justice, equity, love, and peace.

May this be your sweet gospel lullabye tonight, dear ones:

We belong to each other for the sake of the good.
So unclench your fear, lean in, and gather.
Make space and sing with shaky joy
For you are not alone.
We belong to each other for the sake of the good.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


And God's hope does not put us to shame, 
because God's love has been poured into our hearts by the 
Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.  - Romans 5:5

My Hope has been feeling silly and ashamed lately.

It is hard to be hopeful these days. Syria. Racism. Guns.
Fear. Blame. Discord. Corruption. Poverty. Malice.
These things eat hope for breakfast.

Maybe you've been aching too. Maybe Hope has fallen to the bottom of your purse or it sits on your dresser without a proper home. Maybe it's stuck under your skin like a splinter that throbs because its being rejected by everything around it. I know the feeling.

But tonight my Hope is rising and I figured the internet might as well know.

I have been with a sick kid all day. His voice is is completely different when his throat is swollen. His head is hot and I can feel his heart racing when he wraps his long body around me and settles into my lap for a sweaty nap. All 36 pounds of Jasper are working hard. He is fighting and repairing and restoring. And then, from his sticky and chapped coma he mutters, "Mom, I am starting to start to feel a little better." I can hear his soft snores coming through the baby monitor upstairs. Resilience.

I drove back through Minneapolis to work and spotted neighbors picking up trash along the sidewalk where corner store wrappers like to gather in crinkled conversation.  I opened the door for a women who apologized for coming to dinner early, who was amazed by my simple welcome and the delicious scents that poured from the kitchen. I watched as neighbors and children made dinner together in the kitchen using both English and Spanish to mix ingredients and friendship for the sake of many who dine together on Wednesdays. I listened as Johnny gave me his order, guided safely to his chair by a sighted-stranger.

I was surprised to find a new mother from ZOOM House in the Recovery Worship circle, her son already wiggling with energy and asking me for chocolate. He was remembering the candy on Patty's desk from last week. We colored on the floor while folks prayed and sang around us.

I got up to uncover the bread and juice, which he could not help but touch. "Are we going to eat this?" he asked over the Words of Institution. His question unraveled this ritual into a conversation about Jesus' presence and enough and promise and sharing. He took the bite and sip with great eagerness.

Before they left, Patty found chocolate and I picked up crayons. Then his mother asked if she could come back on Sunday during worship and Monday during my office hours for communion. "How often can we have it?" she asked on their behalf. "Often," I answered. "If you are hungry and this promise is giving you hope, come often."

Today a heart beat quickly against my heart. Beauty was restored, welcome was extended, a feast was prepared, and a little one could not keep his hands off the bread.  There will always be heartache, most often when I am reading the news by myself and shaking my head; but when I lean in to struggle and feast with others, great Hope never disappoints. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

echoes and balm.

I arrived late to the Why Christian? Conference yesterday and found myself winding through the hallways of St. Mark's Cathedral in a pokey line. But we had coffee and energy and a few familiar faces. And then, armed with my wristband and swag, I followed into the sanctuary. It was packed to the gills. One chair had been added to each aisle, as if for a whimsical flight attendant, but those were filled too. People were singing and breathing and laughing and squishing in. There were bodies everywhere - and so I got goosebumps. I love when bodies embody.

I came alone knowing that I would not be alone. Most of my dorky church friends would be here. They too were stuffed into this holy space. They too were unpacking their fragile hearts while we confessed and chanted Psalms, while we were led and promised with words often left to our own lips.

I was acutely aware of the crowd, but also of the vaulted ceilings. While the square-footage below was brimming with questions and joy and sorrow and pain and wondering, there was so much space above. Our voices carried upwards. And I felt the Spirit hovering gently, tending to our two thousand hands, all holding piles of shit and suffering and hope and faith carried along.

It is good to be surrounded while listening to good storytellers. It's even better when those storytellers are preachers - powerful women who ache with the world's pain and glow with its beauty. It's the best when they fire their wisdom and humor and love at you nonstop for two days, reclaiming and reconverting you all weekend long.

You know that I am called to the margins - the fragmented and addicted and hurting places. But I am also called to be a source of balance and health for my little family. And so these things are always battling for my heart, though they should not stand so very far apart. The pressure of each weighs on me and I waste energy meant for grace on disciplining myself at every turn. It's exhausting.

This weekend I heard that familiar struggle and strength in other women. They told me I am not alone while convicting, absolving, wrestling and freeing me using the same truths I hand over to others everyday. This weekend these things were gifts for me and I white-knucked them every 25 minutes when a new broken beauty stood before me with witness and fierce, defiant love.

I have heard from 3 dear pastor|mama friends this summer, each fried and isolated for good reasons. They are weary from this hard work of being church and loving humans and dragging wild grace back into the arenas of shame, despair, achievement, and self-righteousness. Like me, they have seen and heard and carried enough to feel both completely shattered and fiercely compelled. And, like me, they do not always have a preacher when they need one.

Each speaker told us we are broken and beloved and brave. They preached the incarnation and death and resurrection so that our bodies were demanded and declared as well. We heard it dozens of times and with each proclamation, unified sighs would rush over us. We were starving for this news, again and again. It felt new every single time.

We became more convinced our of our own stories and witnesses, mutually inspired by the reclaiming and reconverting we shared with each voice. I called the spirits of my 3 pastor|mama friends from their far corners into the space, wishing they could be emptied and filled with us, wishing their bodies and stories could have been squished into the pews alongside us.

This morning the magnificent Rachel Kurtz offered a great gift. Three words into There is a Balm in Gilead, I had tears dripping from my jaw. Please note that I do not cry often or in public. When I do, I well up momentarily like a good Scandinavian, clear my throat and then it's over. But today the song bellowed so forcefully that I believed her. Her assurance and strength washed over me. The tears gushed through my body and cleansed pathways with their departure, then tumbled through closed eyes and down my cheeks. All my open spaces caught the healing gospel. It wedged into every crack and wound and ache. It filled my failures and covered my fatigue. It wrung me out in three short verses, granting deep peace.

When I opened my eyes, I looked up. I could feel others doing the same. Though we sat shoulder to shoulder, the echo reminded us that there are many more stories and saints in this fragile and unrelenting body. And our call is to keep being bodies who embody because there is enough balm for it all.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

hello again.

Before bed on Sunday night, I went through my whole closet. I pulled out anything that reminded me of postpartum compromises and pumping milk. I piled skirts with busted zippers and shirts I resent ironing. The bags were bursting and the hangers looked lonely. I took pictures of what remained.

Monday morning involved a bottomless cup of coffee and eggs at my favorite coffee shop. I wrote for fun and slowly made my way through lists and mail piles until my laptop died with grace. Then I wandered toward the mall.

Five things. I used the pictures on my phone to decide what five items would make my wardrobe feel new and versatile and...mine again.

A saleswoman rapped on the dressing room door to ask me if I needed anything. I realized I'd been sitting on the bench in that small room for awhile, just facing the mirror. I couldn't remember the last time I'd been in a mall dressing room. It had been years since I'd tried on wild skirts for sheer amusement. And so I sat completely lost in my reflection, relishing big feelings until the woman knocked a second time.

These weeks of vacation and continuing education would be about slowing down in unexpected places. They would be stretches of time apart from a schedule and demands. They would be opportunities to honor myself away from my callings of pastor and mother. And, because these things are so rarely attended, they would be filled with startling realizations and heaps of gratitude.

When I finally stood, I twirled in a skirt I have no occasion to wear. But it looked fabulous. And in it, I thanked my body for the people I've made and the years it has so generously shared itself. I started to cry tears of grief - that stage of my life is over. My body is all mine again.

And when I was done shedding the sadness that comes from saying farewell to something that beloved and well enjoyed, I cried tears of relief. I am happy to have myself back. I am ready to see and love myself for the sake of her independence again. My physical being is familiar but also brand new. I am curves and tones of who I have always been, but I am also very shaped by these childbearing journeys and the sacrificial love I've discovered in becoming both broken and reclaimed.

I'm glad I had an enormous mirror for that moment. Because she is marvelous and I wanted to see every bit of her when I smiled through glad tears and whispered, "Hello again."

Monday, August 3, 2015


I was describing my hopes and dreams for Zion's future to an older colleague the other day when he interrupted. "Have you ever thought about interim ministry?" Every day, actually. I think more plain ol' pastors should view what they do as interim ministry.

I don't have anything against the long pastorate - and maybe I'll be called to one someday - but most of my contemporaries are enjoying leadership a few chapters at a time. They are nimble and creative and effecting change quickly. They are acutely aware of the warp speed at which Being Church is changing. We don't make 5-10 year plans anymore - not with our councils and not with our own calls.

Some of us are on a shoestring and a prayer.
Some churches pay their pastors below synod guidelines.
Some are accepting part-time calls even though they long to work full time.
Some churches are living month to month, giving their pastors just weeks or months notice when their position will be cut.

And so we make 1-3 year plans. We are brutally honest with call committees and congregations and committees and leaders. We preach sermons without assuming the text will come around the lectionary cycle again while we're still in the same call. We think about sustainability and lay leadership all the time - because what's the point of pastor-centered transformation when we're serving year to year?

I met with five colleagues last week who were all acutely aware of the chapter at hand. There are beautiful, thriving things. There are exciting things. There are stressful things. There are intimidating things. There are both sprint and marathon things. There are reasons we long to stay for years and reasons we imagine moving on sooner.

Our sanctuary has 27 pews today, but 20 will be unscrewed and loaded onto a semi trailer this Saturday afternoon. There will be a few funny looking weeks while we hodge podge chairs, rip up carpet, and start fresh with pew chairs. We will bless the mess. Some will cry for these perfectly good benches and some will clap with glee when the freshness of September comes. Most of us will cry and clap, for this is what it means to be the church.

We are living and serving in the hinge moment, in between pews and chairs, in between tears and joy, in between Sunday and Saturday. And I can't think of anything better.