Tuesday, March 31, 2015

maundy wednesday.

Jesus, Bread of Life,

You offer yourself as bread and wine to the disciples.
 You make God suddenly physical and familiar
to our most intimate senses.

You urge rituals that infect
our memories and motor skills
with signs of your love and life.

“Do this to remember me.”

What is it like to empty yourself?
How does it feel to be broken and poured out
for the sake of us?

We take and eat and drink because you tell us to.
Because we have no choice but to place hope
in your gifts of forgiveness, salvation, and life.

In doing so, we are humbled by your humility.
We are broken and poured out
every time we kneel, extend hands,
or hold our breath while listening for the promise.

This meal goes after our hunger and our thirst,
            our memories and our pride,
            our sins and our mortality.

Holy morsels and sips.

Fill us with your love. Amen.

The Prayer of the Day
Recovery Worship - April 1, 2015

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

one.

My job has been more exhausting than usual lately.

We've become a healthier place in the last three years. I've been picking at systems and procedures. I've been listening intently to people who disagree with me. I've been startled by how many people are on board with my leadership style and vision - that's both scary and exciting. I've been urging people to put things down, simplify, and learn from failure. I've been asking big questions:

  • Why do we do what we do?
  • Why don't we do what we don't do?
  • What are you most afraid of?
  • If you knew you couldn't fail, what would you do?
Now it's time to notice and name relationships and roles in need of great care and challenge. I'm poking at people, control issues, comfort zones, and default plans. I'm stirring the pot, being confrontational, working through conflict, and daring to say things no one has the guts to say.

I go into each dialogue feeling nervous and overwhelmed.
I leave feeling tired and courageous.
We have always been pretty healthy and it's only getting better. Slowly.

There's a lot to process lately and that's hard to do as a solo pastor. There's great solitude in being the truth teller, the boss, the leader. I share some of my thoughts and feelings when and where it's constructive, but explaining it can take time and energy I don't seem to have. So much of my planning and debriefing happens internally and in prayer.

Good pastors are both proactive and reactive. The relational conversations I've been having require a lot of forethought and compassion. I need to carve out time and protect them from interruption and distraction. And so I've been missing the reactive piece of my call - the openness to detours and subtle hints from the Spirit about where the real ministry lies. 

Today I had just one proactive thing on my list. I asked my pastor, Paul, to lunch. I called him on Sunday and said I was in need of a "vocational high five". Lunch would be my place and my space for active processing with another human being today. The rest would be reactive. And so it was.

One (Awkward) Compliment
I arrived at my desk in time for emails and mail. I looked through contacts I hoped to make and called a few people back. Before too long, a member was standing in my doorway. David lives with mental illness and feels the world intensely. Sometimes tears stream down his face while he asks after my family or compliments my "figure" because his sensitivity is so great and his desire to connect is so strong. Together we navigate appropriate commentary - it's always a delicate conversation. Then I got up and went with him to Bible study a little early. We talked about the glimmers of triumph in Matthew 21 and prayed for peace.

One (Important) Feast
I crunched numbers before a meeting with Cooking Matters staff and told them we look good for a spring session at Zion. The four of us reminisced about the wild and tender dynamics of the winter cooking course that prepared the Lyndale Community Dinner each Wednesday and dreamed about what's next for neighbors feasting in April.

One (Resurrected) Tire
I blew a tire on my way to meet Paul. Something sharp dragged through my tire as I bumped the curb parking. It was a tired and lazy mistake that sounded like a fierce hissssssssss the moment I stepped out of the van. UGH.

There was a wait at the restaurant, so Paul came to see my tire. It was already flat. We explored the manual, found the spare, and he kept morale high while kneeling on my old Redhawk letter blanket from the trunk, his tan suede shoes dangerously close to the gutter slush. We would soon share conversation about ministry in transition - leading through the birth of something new - and how easy it is to feel solitude when you're doing the hard stuff.

Let me be clear. We weren't talking isolation or loneliness. We have good colleagues and leaders and teams. We were speaking of the solitude that comes with the call to be out front a few yards, taking daggers and gaining trust, setting the pace and the tone. Solitude implies some peace that comes with God's present in the wilderness.

An unlikely stranger was able to coax off my stubborn, stuck tire. My world filled with gratitude and humor while Paul secured the spare and we returned to find plenty of free tables at the restaurant. We laughed about the weird church and the beautiful gospel. I was renewed.

One (Tearful) Drunk
My afternoon continued with two trips to the auto shop and a visit from Drunk Tiffany. She's new to the doorbell at Zion, usually ringing on days she's homeless and hammered. Tiffany usually deflects with laughter and gives a lot of hugs, but today I sat long enough to see her cry. Her blue eyeliner faded each time she wiped her red eyes. "What? Do I look old? Do I look ugly?" she would ask whenever I looked at her too long without speaking.  She offered me vodka from a Vitamin Water bottle.

"No, I'm just seeing you. I'm just watching you be really brave and honest."

My answer startled her, so I explained. "I'm guessing you don't cry in front of people very often. I just want to make sure your tears are being seen today because what you feel and think matters. It matters to God and it matters to me. Let it matter to you, too." 

One (Honest) Giver
After an evening meeting, Grant asked to speak to me. We closed up the building and lingered in the lounge near my office - in the same chairs I'd shared with David and Tiffany. He confessed that he was ready, after many years, to become a planned, regular giver. But it was coming from a place of guilt and regret instead of joy. He felt late to the party. And all while he didn't know if Zion should be his forever or only place.

He is not alone. There are so many Grants - at Zion and everywhere. I was glad for his truth - the part he knew and could articulate, but also the mystery about what else might feed his spirit. We'll listen. We'll pray. We'll figure it out together. In the meantime, I'm glad and better off for all his fragmented, honest intersections with Zion. 

One (Good) Day
I drove home through light flurries on my new tire, grateful for a day filled with a little less solitude and a little more reaction. I am blessed by my pastor who has ears to listen and hands to help. I am blessed by the tears of the vulnerable and brave people I serve. I am blessed by the movement between
   process and recess,
   breaking and mending,
   solitude and community,
   exhaustion and pure joy.

I change people's names sometimes.

Monday, February 23, 2015

expectations.

When people ask about the demographics of my church, their first question is often about young families. Many associate health and growth in a congregation with how many young family units attend worship, give financially, and participate in family program ministries.

Well, we don't have many young families at Zion. In fact, if your definition of "young families" is two parents with small children, then that demographic is the Carlsons and…that's it. Seriously.

For generations, we've associated young families with health and sustainable growth in congregations. Sure, we like the sight and sounds of wiggles and giggles in the pews. We are proud of our Christmas pageants and the size of our youth groups. But these families are not feel-good statistics and healthy church trophies. These are, perhaps, our most exhausted and overwhelmed people. They struggle to navigate worship attendance around naps, confirmation around hockey, and pressure to lead when showing up is challenging enough.

Matt told me that he finally sang all four verses of a hymn last week. What do you mean "finally"? I asked. He meant that, since Jasper was born, he's never been able to focus on the worship service long enough to sing a whole song. All that work shlepping little people into the sanctuary by 10:00am for four years and he's only been catching snippets. I thought about all the brave parents who do keep coming to church despite the struggle - how intensely we pressure them to usher and teach and join a committee. Talk about an uphill battle.

So here's how I understand my call to welcome and serve "young families" at Zion:

I will celebrate the fact that you showed up. 
And so will Matt. It's amazing that you are all fully dressed and you arrived together in one piece. Bravo! High fives all around. These are the simple miracles that birthed liturgical dance - I'm just sure of it. The nursery will be ready to receive your little squirrels if you can't wait for an hour of personal space. The sanctuary will also be ready to receive your little squirrels because their noise, questions, distractions, and LIFE are very welcome in worship.

I will guard you from unfair expectations.
All of them. I will notice, name, and absolve the internal pressures you put on your family by reminding you to be kind to yourselves. I will also provide a human shield between you and those who smother you with committee invitations and assumptions about your time or gifts. We will probably get coffee or a beer in the first few weeks - either at my house or while kids play at our ankles. And there I will begin by listening to your story. I will want to hear about your longings, needs, and dreams because I know how rarely you have an opportunity to voice those things these days.

And then I will be honest with you.
I will confess that your church experience at Zion will never be traditional or programmatic. We don't have a critical mass for lock-ins or children's sermons. But we do have sacred relationships that will change your children and your family forever. We have a professional Santa Claus in the choir who can inspire awe and joy in the heat of July. We have an open table where children commune, confident that they belong in the midst of all things. We have people of every age and demographic, ready to welcome kids into their conversations and coffee hour circles.

I will tell you that, on Sunday, my son begged to go to Zion early with me. I reminded him that I couldn't play with him since I need to be Pastor Meta. He replied, I know. I want to play with my church friends or help them get the snacks ready. You can do your work and I'll do my things.

And sure enough. He helped set up the sanctuary and played in the nursery and came up for communion with friends 5 and 10 and 20 times his age. He received the bread and the juice with such sincerity and then sat with them in the front pew while he slowly enjoyed them. Many noticed and smiled - my son relishes this ritual and makes a meal of it. Later members helped him turn an empty cardboard box into a robot helmet. Young adults chased him around, played I SPY, and asked him about his birthday party.

And so I declare to parents of small children everywhere: the future of the church is not your responsibility - the Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of working through and in spite of tantrums and tight budgets. We can figure out how to get along without you...

but we are SO much better with you! 
  you who stumble in during the Gathering Hymn
  you who drop crayons and Cheerios under pews
  you who embody the fierce and weary love of God our Parent.

So come when you can and come as you are.
And, if the stars are aligned and naps cooperate, you just might see my weary husband halfway back on the left hand side. He's the one giving every hymn a shot while holding wipes or Goldfish.

Monday, February 16, 2015

hearts.

I used to hate Valentine's Day. I had all kinds of reasons to despise the Hallmark holiday and its harpy expectations. I'd been barfed on, smothered, forgotten, and ditched on Valentine's Days prior to meeting Matt, so there were no expectations our first February together. I just asked that we would do something unrelated to the holiday. Thus began our tradition of eating at Hardees. After all, true love is a man and a mushroom swiss burger.

But these children have softened my heart to the holiday. I have birthed three babies in the month of February and now celebrate my love for them each year. I help Jasper design his mailbox for school that receives little candies and notes from his friends. I buy strawberries for the class party and cut them into hearts. I make cookies and frost them red or pink. Okay, I bake break 'n' bakes that come with the necessary supplies…but I wear an apron while I do it. You get the point. I'm suddenly smitten with February, but remain the Queen of Shortcuts.

This year we threw a birthday party for all three kids on Valentine's Day. Matt wondered if people might have conflicts the afternoon of Valentine's Day. I reminded him that we're probably not friends with people who "make a day of it". But here we are - making a day of it.

My babies were all born in the afternoon. In birth order. So there were three cakes cut and three songs sung. Jasper blew out all six candles.

Green lips!
Four pieces later he had regrets.
12:58pm.

Jasper came into my life like a freight train. He changed everything and he'll always be my first, my boy. I understand my dad's love for me - his first, his girl - through my love for Jasper. There's nothing like it.

Except, maybe, neon green frosting on a Ninja Turtle cake complete with a Splinter action figure. I know. We're the coolest parents ever.

1:51pm.

Solveig was such a unique birth. She arrived quickly and it was so thrilling - but it was only half over! While I held her on my chest, I prayed that Tove wouldn't spin into a breach position. We had 11 minutes with just our laid back Solveig. I watched her apgar test and talked to Matt while he held her with such pride. Once discharged from the hospital, we had 5 nights with just Solveig until Tove joined us at home. She began a trail blazer, but T would say she's also a really loyal buddy.

I hope they recreate this photo
on their 21st birthday.
2:02pm.

Tove arrived with something to prove. She was fierce grit and trouble from the start. I will never forget the way Matt's hands wrapped around her little body, propping her up with determination at each feeding. She was the better nurser of the two, but he was better at getting her through a bottle. Her dimples are her saving grace and she already knows it.

It was good to be with our family and wide village - our gracious guides through this big year. It was good to sing that song three times over. It was good to cut out paper hearts with little kids and it was good to watch them run to their parents with pride and homemade love.

Later that night, once the kids were all in bed, Matt went out for groceries and came back with some chili cheese fries from Hardees. We ate them in the quiet of our living room, hearts and bellies filled.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

contrast.


Solveig got glasses this month. She tugged at them for the first few hours and seemed confused, but then let them settle onto her little nose. Her eyes were wide, focused on things she'd never seen clearly before. She squealed at books and started beating Tove to their favorite toys. The contrast was - and still is - overwhelming.

The season of Epiphany is also bringing contrast into my bland, chilly winter landscape. The stories we hear on Sunday mornings are pointing out all the reasons I need Jesus - all the ways I cop out and cry uncle on this faith journey. I hear my own hesitation or insecurity in these texts:

I am a Pharisee loitering on the sidelines 
  while John baptizes in the wilderness.

I am tempted by every voice that dares me 
  to prove my worth and power.

I am turned upside down by Jesus blessing the unexpected
  and his urging to pray for God's will instead of my own.

I am hoarding bread and fish, 
  skeptical of my own satisfaction and the miracle at hand.

I am building dwellings for Jesus and the prophets, 
  desperate to serve in tangible ways while totally missing the point.

I need Epiphany. The stories and season offer overwhelming clarity that can change everything. The comfort and familiarity of Christmas gives way to tricky discipleship, wide love, and brave faith.

God, I offer my blurry confusion and tentative heart in exchange for your good vision. Give me eyes that focus with wonder and new joy - just like Solveig's.