Monday, December 29, 2008

Stewardship and Karma

I was at REI for a few last minute Christmas gifts last week and noticed an advertisement on the front door. It read: Stewardship - Just a fancy word for Karma. The words danced over a man hiking in beautiful scenery. He seemed to enjoy the view from his perch in a high forest.

As I wandered through the store looking for gloves and a book, I wondered about that comparison. Is it fair to dumb down a word like stewardship? We hardly use it and rarely understand its broad compassion. Like any brave responsibility that is also a privilege, stewardship is both grave and joyful.

While Karma preaches a message of interconnectedness and harmony, it is also motivated by plain old self interest. We wish to do well for the sake of rewards and promotions in the next life, taking care of others because failing to do so will result in frightening consequences.

We are good at speaking about environmental stewardship as a "should". We can debate the legality of caring for God's earth and all the resources we've been entrusted with. Most of the conversations I hear in the media are about duty and sound fear based. Here, the church has an opportunity to stand up and proclaim the other side of the Stewardship/Karma coin. In Genesis God called us into the grand design as co-creators, workers in the kingdom and stewards of gifts entrusted.

Yes, it is our responsibility to use less and save more, to reuse and carefully consider how our choices impact the whole community on earth. But we are motivated by more than a good lecture and fear of what future generations will call us if we neglect or reject this duty. Stewardship is also a joyful privilege, a call to this challenge by God in the garden and again by each other in 2009. We get to participate and grow in grace by striving to care for something bigger than ourselves.

Instead of dumbing down loaded words like Stewardship and Karma, let's make room for the conversation necessary to become a humankind taught the need for unity by the law and freed to make a different through the power of the gospel.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Winter Wonderland

It's a deep freeze week in Minnesota. My husband is glued to the weather forecast each night before bed and watches the Weather Channel each morning before work, anticipating the cold darkness of December with childlike enthusiasm. Clearly he's a native.

On Saturday we finally bought our Christmas tree, a strapping three-foot Norfolk Pine. It's potted so we can watch it grow during the year and, perhaps, decorate it again next winter. She's a beaut! We spent the afternoon wrapping presents and pulling out ornaments to adorn our little friend. Outside, the air grew cold and harsh.

Sunday gathered all kinds of people for worship despite the frigid rain. The kids' Christmas play was after the service and we huddled downstairs to see them proclaim the incarnation. And though St. John's is a grand building in the big city, there was something intimate about the church basement. It felt like the warm family of a small country church. The set was hand-painted, the costumes homemade and the lines prompted by a parent kneeling in front. They whispered their lines with bashful excitement and belted out the Christmas carols sprinkled throughout. All rejoiced for the room's chaos and energy as they left the stage. We drank coffee to defrost before heading back into the slush.

On Monday I celebrated Sabbath, which grants welcome permission to wander the city in layers of sweats with greasy hair stuffed under my hat and fur-lined boots to keep the sidewalk's chill at bay. I bounced between the gym and a coffee shop. I shoveled the walk and asked an equally disheveled old man where to find pimento at the grocery store. The cold was no match for my sloppy bundle and list of errands.

But today was different. I braved the day in real work clothes, missing my casual layers and wishing I my toes would warm. The windshield wipers left only small and sporadic streaks of clarity and the snow from atop the car blew to cover most of the back window. We all navigated the slick streets with caution. I listened to Martin Sexton all day, finding patience in his lyrics and the happiness you can hear in his voice. At stoplights I watched the snowflakes gather on the tree limbs and street signs, enjoying the blurry view from inside my car.

Tonight I am covered in fleece and blankets, typing as my husband hangs on every word of Dave Dahl's forecast, expectant about tomorrow's gifts of winter. Our little tree is proudly lit and it's time for hot tea to warm my toes. In a season of "in here" and "out there", I am glad to be "in here" for the night. Thank God for the "in here"!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Light in the Darkness

I came home mid-afternoon last week hoping to rest and lie down before evening vespers. I didn’t feel quite right and soon it was clear that I wouldn’t be preaching, let alone driving to church. A stomach virus held me captive and it was days before I could open my eyes and peel myself away from my trusty puke pot.

There’s nothing fun about being sick, especially when it wipes out all your energy and clears your calendar. Just calling in sick took strength I didn’t have and I spent most of my time in the silent living room. My big event each evening was trying to get vertical at dusk to turn on the porch light for Matt. The sound of television commercials and the sight of a computer screen made my stomach churn, so I sank into the darkness of Advent and drifted between sleep and wake.

So much for keeping watch during the season of anticipation and waiting! I was less concerned about the time lost for shopping and finding a Christmas tree. I didn’t miss the advertisements and the snowy roads. But I did miss two worship services during my favorite season and the hymns that fill these dark days of beginning. I missed two opportunities to dress in the beautiful stole my brothers bought me, a sign of winters together as goofy siblings.

So I would snuggle deeply into my blankets and remember all the times I came back to Normandale for Advent Vespers during college. Gabe and Bror would flank either side of me like unsteady pillars and try to make me laugh and snort while they sang in falsettos and character voices. They would lean over and point to the words in my hymnal like the bouncing Disney ball, patronizing me. They would rub my back and cuddle awkwardly in the pews until I couldn’t ignore them anymore. Their antics were incredibly subtle, but fail proof. Tears would form in my eyes from holding in the Advent joy and I’d elbow their sides like a good older sister.

Advent reminds me of those winter days and coming home to a place where the songful evening prayer promises something grand to come. Even in sickness and darkness, we have that promise.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Dr. Seuss

I've never kept a plant alive longer than a year. They wilt, lose leaves, and even the succulents develop strange growths or seem to cave in. I'd all but given up hope of keeping anything alive: a plant, a pet, a child. The only thing I am capable of nurturing is mold in the shower, but I'm too much of a neat freak to let that happen.

I married my opposite in many ways and, fortunately, he happens to be a green thumb. He adopted all the plants I was failing in Arizona and now they happily thrive. Even this China Doll plant my roommates and I neglected and left for dead is perky and reaching for the sky. We call him Dr. Seuss because he's gawky and scraggly, growing in one direction and then changing his mind.

Most of our plants are funny looking because they have died and been resurrected, veering from their original size and shape to become something new and strange in a second life. With the weather turning colder, all the plants have found their way in from the porch. They sit in sunny corners of our small house, peaking toward windows and bringing a bit of summer to our winter igloo.

I'm grateful for these funny looking plants because they are daily reminders of second chances and new life. As we wait this Advent, a new beginning, may you stretch and peak into the sunlight wide awake in anticipation. God is about to send new life into the winter cold and the cozy corners of our homes, exceeding all expectations.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Lil' Techie

Today our new, updated church website went live!

It's been a fun project this fall. Taking pictures, writing content, and helping the webist design the layout was a great way to gage what I'm learning about my new congregation - our people, our community, and God's mission for us.

There are a few more things to do before it's complete and all the links work, but it's up and running with lots of information.

Check it out!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Rest, huh?

On Mondays I rest and celebrate being only sometimes useful to God. I step away from my professional role and trust that life and church continue without me for 24 hours. It feels good.

I do a variety of uninteresting things with my day. This morning I went to the gym and did my no-nonsense-thirty-minute-lift workout. Later I stopped by my parents' house and picked up my dad for a few hours of fun. He's cooped up recovering from knee surgery and likes to get out and about when there's a willing driver and some time to spare.

He spent last Monday asking me if I had anywhere else to be, concerned that my day would be more hectic or less efficient because of him. I would just smile and try to explain that Mondays have nothing to do with stress or efficiency.

Normally, I relish Mondays and the relief they bring. I wander and nap, graze and enjoy the quiet of a day alone. But today is the first time I'm having difficulty separating myself from the tasks of Pastor and Church. This holiday week brings much to do and few days for work. Being new and excited about everything on the horizon makes it even harder to tune out for a day!

So I publicly confess to you that tonight I will be making Advent Calendars for my Sunday school kids, but I'll be crafting in front of very trashy reality television. I will draft a stewardship letter, but I will do so in sweatpants while enjoying a cup of hot chocolate while my husband studies in the next room.

While these things should and can wait for tomorrow, I will thank God for gifting me a vocation and sending me to a congregation I adore. I will be grateful for work that challenges and puzzles me. And I will listen to God convict me with his laughter as I try to justify my antsy, Type A, sabbath passion to myself and to you. :)

Monday, November 10, 2008


When I'm in the right mood. When I have my eyes opened to the details of familiar places. When I'm defeated. When I need my faith bolstered by another. In these moments I notice the nooks in life that bring great hope and happiness to my day.

Earlier this fall, I noticed this bench along the parkway. Unlike others overlooking the river, this one has been adorned with sweet signs of fall and it draws people in. Whether I'm driving or running by, I watch people gravitate towards it's beauty and the view it offers. They sit and take a break from the plan, the route, the day. A pumpkin, fall berries, and a stalk of corn created unsuspected beauty for all to share.

Those blessed to stumble by this nook approach the bench as though the experience itself contains great value. What a simple thing! As the holiday season approaches, I wish for little nooks that bring true and simple joy. Malls will fill and decorations will surround, but my prayer is that we can note the nooks that bring clarity amid the rush. And may we remember to create these places for others along the way as well.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Rise Up, O Saints of God

Two years ago, I woke up in Arizona to find the sky filled with hot air balloons. It was All Saints Sunday, but a local balloon festival was preaching resurrection well before I arrived at church. That image is hard to forget, colors rising and people slowing to stare at the heavens in awe.

This morning we awoke with an extra hour of sleep to sunny skies and fall colors that refuse to fade into winter just yet. I slipped under a chasuble for the first time, blanketed in white and prepared to read the names of those we have lost this year. There was much to do before the service and, for the first time since arriving at St. John's, I didn't think to wish for filled pews and new faces.

I couldn't stop smiling during worship because the kids poured up front for the children's sermon and the choir boasted a few more voices than usual. There were a lot of people here! Was it the extra sleep or the warm weather that brought these saints? Or was it the Spirit, visiting us in our dreams and blowing through autumn?

The crowd was a dear reminder that, regardless of the number in the pews each week, our voices join with all the saints across space and time. Sometimes we feel small, but we are part of something vast and dynamic in the world. Made whole in the Body of Christ, our prayers rise like desert balloons, colored brightly and dancing together.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sometimes It's That Simple

I fell into bed on Saturday night listening to the wind howl outside. It was chilly and the yard sounded restless. We both read in bed for some time before falling asleep, enjoying the silence inside that brought wild noises to our attention: cat fights and trees swaying. It sounded cold out there.

One of my favorite Garrison Keillor stories about Lake Wobegon marks this peculiar transition that happens when the weather gets cold in Minnesota. Suddenly we spend less time on our hair because it’s bound to be smushed by a hat or blown into a rat’s nest. We skimp on the make up because pale skin is too blatant to hide and deep freezes will leave snot-sicles you’ll have to wipe off anyway. In the cold of Minnesota, life is simplified to an animal instinct: we are either out there or in here.

When we’re out there we walk with our heads down into the wind, determined to get in here. And once we are in here, we’re just plain grateful. The little things don’t seem to bother us much because we are warm and safe, surviving and existing.

Last year I lived with my cousin, Haakon, and we listened to that story several times during the winter. He would crawl in his sleeping bag on the couch and I would bury my body in sweatpants, curled up in a chair with hot tea. We would relish the goodness of being in here. That Garrison Keillor story was on my mind on Sunday as the front doors flew open after church and people poured out into the sleet and mush. I was warm, standing in the narthex and draped with my alb. I was glad to be in here.

I drove out to camp for our Oktoberfest celebration, less than excited about being out there on the roads. The slush had everyone driving defensively and I was disappointed that a fall festival would send us inside. I parked and trudged up a hill, into the wind, to find the lodge. I squinted to see the lake blowing and leaves both turning and falling in all directions. How beautiful this place must be in all seasons - and how wonderful that I will be back find out!

I pulled open the door to the lodge and met the warmth. A table with hot cider and hot chocolate met me and kids ran by squealing. Families set up board games, people watched football, and children played ping pong in the basement. It was cozy in here, appreciated all the more by the journey out there. I fell into bed on Sunday night like I had the night before, listening for the wind and grateful for the winter to come and all the things it will simplify. It always does.

Image borrowed from

Friday, October 24, 2008


I found my way to the corner booth at Longfellow Grill during the lunch rush. I was surrounded by four other women, new to ministry in the Twin Cities and fellow students with me at Luther Seminary. We have been planning to come together for weeks now.

Soon we noticed that another group of pastors was sitting a few tables from us with two classmates we recognized and greeted. Later, two priests came in, wearing clerical shirts, and were greeted by our laughter and introductions. There we were, more than a dozen ministers sprinkled about the small restaurant, mixing Sunday with Thursday and saying grace over sweet potato fries.

We laughed and shared stories about being new to ministry and the worship blunders we’ve made thus far. We confided about anxieties and joys, pondered the economic crisis and its effects during stewardship season, and talked about the blurred line between Generation X and the Millennial Generation.

Instead of trying to find the official year in history this shifted, I suggested that there is a sociological barometer that makes plain a distinction to me. Years ago, parents had no patience for boredom. The moment the word fell from a child’s lips, the little one was scooted out the door, locked out, and expected to “make play” or “keep busy” outside, curing the boredom herself. Toys did not include instructions for how they were to be played with and kids created games with rules, systems, and props all their own.

Somewhere along the way, technology changed play and parents found (good) reasons to fear sending their kids out until the dinner bell rang. Now we hear, “I’m bored,” as though someone or something is supposed to come along and fix it – entertain and do the creating for them. I remember blocking off the street with orange cones and playing soccer or hockey until dark. I remember inventing imaginary adventure games that didn’t need batteries – or toys for that matter. Are those my age the end of an era?

The word entitlement came up several times, which then reminded me that I’m not above or beyond this Millennial Generation. I remember trying to talk my dad into giving me allowance “just because”, though I knew I hadn’t earned it that week. I remember wanting certain things and thinking I deserved them just because my friends had them.

Maybe I can’t be pigeon-holed into a generational definition and neither can you. Maybe each generation is made up all kinds of personalities, work ethics, parenting styles, learning methods, pros, and cons. I looked around the restaurant at strong and capable Christian leaders of all ages, using their unique gifts to partner with those who compliment and challenge them for the sake of God’s world. It made me want to say grace all over again.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Saint Teresa

I share October 15 with Saint Teresa of Avila, my self-designated patron saint.

I love her because she was a sassy Spaniard born just as the Reformation was taking hold in Europe. She ran away from home to become a nun and, while sick later in life, started experiencing ecstasy and visions. Teresa was the first woman to be named a Doctor in the Church and dedicated her life to caring for the poor. Her bare feet were signs of service among those with no shoes. My saint’s writings are clever and sarcastic, often referencing her casual conversations with God the Creator and Jesus.

Her story has dark corners and strange twists, which continue to remind me that even the Church’s saints are children of a fallen humanity and entirely relatable. She never lived as though her faith confined her, but instead with great freedom and bold passion.

I knew nothing of Teresa until I spent a week at the hermitage in St. Francis, MN three years ago. Each cottage is named after a saint and the small table inside contains information about that life and service. I learned that her day on the church calendar is my birthday. I learned that she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind to God or wrestle with the strangeness of life in two kingdoms. I learned something about the patience she so often speaks of, being in silence and tranquility for 48 hours.

So I cannot help but think of her today – so many are celebrating her with the same fondness I do – and I’m honored to share today with a woman I so admire.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Pumpkin Par-tay

Harvest time! I spent yesterday’s drizzly afternoon at the “pumpkin patch” in my neighborhood, a city garden shop just a few blocks away. We hoisted many onto the scale before choosing six for the wagon. They found a home in the trunk of my car until we could carve them at my parents’ house tonight.

The garage was draped in newspaper and pumpkin guts. We spent happy hour drinking beer and playfully competing as we carved each masterpiece. Matt and Bror used designs to create wolves howling at the moon and a crow in a tree. Spooky. Gabe free-handed a creepy face that reminded me of his toddler temper-tantrum stage. Cara took so much off the top from scooping it out that her little stem had to be worn to the side as a beret. Resourceful.

My dad’s pumpkin was finished within minutes and then he waited impatiently for us to finish so he could start the grill and dinner. The face he carved looked like the same face he carved on each annual pumpkin when I was little. Don’t mess with a good thing, I guess! Mom found candles and we lit them all up, admiring our work.

At dinner we talked fall: flannel sheets, crisp air, no more bugs, back to school, leaves changing, layers of fleece, and all our favorite things autumn. We all overate and Bror had to “have a lie down on the couch until things settled”. My birthday isn’t until tomorrow, but today is quite the present.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Faithful Fanfare

I was late to work this morning because I couldn’t stop watching the stock market yo-yo during breakfast. By the time I left the house, it had dipped 700 points from yesterday, “fully” recovered, and started wobbling in the red again. Barack Obama and George W. Bush had both given brief speeches addressing the crisis and a man with a clipboard had appraised our home before considering us for refinancing. Europe is also experiencing economic instability and Matt’s face dropped when he realized our honeymoon would have been much cheaper this month.

I need stronger coffee.

It is overcast with streaks of every gray in the sky and a light, restless wind pulls leaves from trees. Traffic is backed up everywhere because even detours have detours during this mad dash of fall road construction. The stained glass angel that hangs from my office window has no light to catch, but she plays her trumpet anyway.

But these things look different once I roll up my sleeves as Pastor. The stock market and clouds cannot doom away God’s abundant grace because the work I have today will not let me forget that my faith and true life exist beyond capitalism and democracy. Perhaps God has given me this pastoral vocation so my cynicism cannot overcome me!

I will spend this morning writing the prayers for Sunday’s service, remembering those less fortunate and praying for those who fear they deserve no prayers. I will create a children’s message that connects the little ones to their baptisms. I will knock on doors and tell people they are always welcome at God’s house. I will visit the sick and lonely, reminded that God comes to us when we are most vulnerable, afraid, and discouraged.

These overt and joyful chores God gives me are clear reminders that the Kingdom prevails and you have your reminders too. Who will the Holy Spirit nudge you to call or embrace today? Who will God send you to? Christ will be shared as you speak well of a coworker, wash children during bath time, or cook to feed your family.

The angel in my window was made by a 95 year old shepherd and farmer from Kansas. He remembers the Great Depression and hard times, but still he made her clothed in brilliant colors with the trumpet to her lips on sunny and cloudy days alike.

The forecast says the skies will clear this afternoon and I half wonder if it is her song that drives the gray away.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Other Side

There is a scene in scripture that seems to find and challenge me every time I get too comfortable in my life or cozy in ministry. In Mark 4, Jesus gets poetic and shares parables and teachings with the crowds. People are in awe and the disciples are finding some popularity in this place. Just when they get comfortable and confident about the way this ministry might play out, a storm blows in and the weather changes. Jesus surprises them by saying, "Let us go to the other side." He gets in a boat and heads across the lake where people don't know them and they're unlikely to be accepted. It is here, in chapter 5, that Mark tells the stories of mission and ministry that are most fascinating to me.

It is construction season in Minneapolis and 35W serves as a greater divide than usual this time of year. While the bridge near the U of M is back up and running, other bridges near my home and church are still closed. It takes creativity and patience to cross the divide, especially during rush hour.

Last night I bobbed and weaved through back roads to find a route under the highway and noticed a change when I reached the other side. I rolled down the windows and turned the radio up. The landmarks are even more familiar on this side with memories at every stoplight. The nostalgia steered me to the golf course and soon I was gathering my clubs from the trunk. Some of the starters still remember me from when my high school team practiced there and on the right afternoon, my range tokens and twilight rates are waived. The clubhouse smells like memories, reminding me how familiar this side is.

A huge smile spread across my face as I approached the putting green. Of all the people I could run into here today, it's my little brother. He was home from college for a tournament in the Twin Cities that I didn't know about. We had a good laugh and headed for the range, both admitting that we'd been drawn to Hiawatha for sentimental reasons and that we were surprised to see each other. It is good to come back to these places, to remember and to feel at home.

God has sent me to many places and put me in many boats bound for the far away 'mysterious elsewhere', but this first call takes me to a different kind of other side. It's so close to this side that I might mistake it for comfortable and cozy. So I will be watching and listening when I cross over each morning, ready for God to reveal ways I can participate in the divine mission over there.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Welcoming the Neighbor

You never know what you're going to get when you knock on a stranger's door. If you have ever been a solicitor or walked through neighborhoods taking a survey, you're familiar with the adventure of door knocking. Anything can happen.

I've spend many afternoons since arriving at this congregations walking through the community and introducing myself. I've been told to "milk being new", and this is one way I do. I knock with no intention to survey or sell, bother or harm. My smile and small flier simply inform neighbors that they are always welcome at St. John's. Sometimes, that's the most surprising news of all to those I meet.

I was called because this congregation believes they are meant to grow in and for the community. There is a desire to serve as a neighborhood church, to be proclaimers of the gospel and the hands and feet of Christ to those right here. There are plenty of churches in our neighborhood with bigger Sunday school programs and more bible studies. Other churches have more members or more Sunday services. But, in addition to our many strengths, we are right here.

I wander in good weather and sometimes in good weather turned bad. I meet people who tell me about their churches or seem completely apathetic about faith and organized religion. I meet friendly pets and dogs with deadly barks. I meet people who like to talk and people who'd rather keep a screen door between us.

Today I met a woman that made the whole block worth it. She lit up when I introduced myself. "Hi, there. I'm the new pastor at St. John's Lutheran right up the street and I just wanted to stop by and introduce myself. I want you to know that you're always welcome at St. John's. We worship on Sundays at 10am and here are a few fall events you might be interested in. You're welcome to join us anytime."

"You say you're a pastor? You're the first pastor who's ever knocked on my door. You're the first pastor who's ever been here. Will you poke your head in and say hello to my mother?"

As my eyes adjusted to the dark living room light, I found an old woman in a recliner waving. I waved back and listened to her daughter repeat my mini-monologue loudly to her. The daughter's voice quivered just a bit as though my knock had meant something.

Her voice provided fuel as I started another block.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I Know A Place

I know a place where a tiny cornfield thrives in the city and people come together to tend the soil. I peered at this garden from a bus window on the way to school and now run by it on sunny afternoons. I take a break from the sidewalks and houses to rest my breath and let the sweat beads gather on my temples. The bugs sing happily and and crickets chirp freely. I enter through the chain link fence lightly because something about this place is sacred and carefully designed.

September is a fall month that demands warmth and sunshine before the days draw too short. We know that each beautiful day will follow with another before snow dominates, so I enter with relief that warmth and growth are not quite gone. This is a good place to come when you want to believe in change and collaboration, hope and harmony. People in this neighborhood have miraculously turned a dusty lot into a sanctuary and brought life to a city block.

Maybe I'm an easy sell, but a moment in this place is enough to satisfy any reason I've come. It quenches the restlessness that fueled my run and I amble back home more slowly. These are the things that we forget to enjoy and rarely speak of as we campaign for a better world. These are the things that matter.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Back to School

This week, buses have been lining up outside the schools near church. Kids pour in and out of the buses with new backpacks, homework, and friends. Our childcare center is in full swing, welcoming kids for another year of fun during the day.

Since I’m a “pipeliner” and went straight from college to seminary, I have never experienced this season without new classes of my own. Even pastoral internship was marked with self, supervisor, and committee evaluations that marked the time like a school year.

I celebrated this week by cleaning out the Sunday school classrooms and restocking them with fresh supplies. I love this ritual that takes place every late summer. I used to bring my supply lists to Office Max and cruise the aisles. Like most Type A - First Born children, I color coded my notebooks and folders for each class and had everything tucked in my backpack neatly by mid-August.

In college and seminary I loved receiving my new syllabus on the first day (or download it ahead of time) and flipped through to take in the readings and assignments. For a moment, I would believe that all of this would get done with the same perfection as the nicely stapled instructions. I crave that fresh start and I think the seasonal and liturgical calendars mark the cycles of my mood and transitions well.

Last week I brought my September issue of Lutheran Women Today to a coffee shop near church and had lunch by myself. I like to read it through cover to cover because the theme permeates each article and they can hold each other up in my memory. LWT also offers a 9 month bible study every school year and a 3 month bible study in the summer that is great for small groups and circles. This month we begin with Ruth and Naomi, so many stories in this issue reflect that companionship.

While I sat reading Martha E. Stortz’s Tale of Two Widows, I listened in on a man and woman having coffee behind me. I would guess them to be in their late 70s, but the roar of their laughter sounded like two teenagers skipping class. They waded through stacks of pictures telling stories about their families and Labor Day weekend. “There was no way in heaven I was gonna get on that blasted jet ski, but they invited me along so I said, ‘You bet. Why not?’” Later I heard her review on the weekend of relaxation. “One of my knees got sunburned. That’s about the most exciting thing that happened.” (Giggles.)

It sounded as though they’ve both lost their spouses and have been friends long enough to know each other’s children well. They cared for each other’s stories and details like true friends. I smiled when they laughed and thought about how Martha’s article connected with their friendship. “Put simply, suffering is what happens to you; grief is what you do about it.” She gives the example of a woman who suffers a stroke. That’s suffering because she was the object of the sentence. Because of the stroke, the woman uses a cane and, on bad days, uses a walker that her grandchildren painted like a rainbow. That’s grief. Grief is dealing with the suffering in a way of your choosing.

Sometimes grieving brings us back to our old lives, like Mary at the tomb on Easter morning. Grief can mean sitting still and dreaming about the life we used to have or the one we wish we had instead. But here were two friends built up by the other’s listening ear and hooting about the ways life is funny sometimes. New life, fresh starts, and a new school year can turn grief into living forward when we have someone to share pictures with and tell stories to.

Another rhythm begins as fall approaches. May you have a good laugh with a dear friend who helps your grief become life. And may you begin this school year looking to learn and become.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A Thousand Words

I am slowly hanging things on the walls of my office, in part because these walls are stubborn. Behind the paint is red tile that only a drill hammer can conquer. For now there is one piece that claims my identity in this room and perhaps it deserves this time alone. I reused a nail that remains from pastors past and proudly display a large photograph of my great, great grandfather, Pastor Nils Arveson, and his 1904 confirmads from North Prairie Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church.

The scene is a formal sitting room with heavily draped windows and a large rug for d├ęcor. The girls wear long, white dresses with high laced collars, their hair in sensible and stylish buns. The boys are in suits and ties, hair parted down the middle and straight faced. My grandfather sits in the middle, his clown collar a distinguishing sign of the times.

The matte and frame are originals and the back of the frame is closed and contained by the slates from an old orange crate. Somehow it has lasted in fair condition to find a place on my wall and in the life of my ministry.

The strangest part? He looks like an Arvesen. Even though we are four generations removed and we have since changed the spelling slightly, I see my mother and grandfather’s faces in his. He is a spiritual ancestor, part of my Modern Church History curriculum at seminary, and the story of my immigrant past.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Bird's Nest

Today I preached in this sanctuary for the first time. The pulpit is high and I stand on a small stepstool to make sure I don’t look like a Kindergartner stuck in the limbs of a giant tree. I know that I am fairly new to the craft of preaching, but I would guess that the nerves stick around in new spaces throughout a preacher’s life.

Each time I meet a new congregation, I am humbled by the mystery that precedes me. What have they already heard? What do they need to hear again? What hurts them? What lifts them up? What wounds to they have that I could worsen with salt? Who will hear law and who will hear gospel? The view changes with each bird’s nest and layout. The sound changes depending on how far my voice is from the ceiling. The people change, needing to hear different things on different days.

My palms were sweaty as the adrenaline rushed through me before preaching. There is something in that anxiety that taunts me each time, tempting me to believe that I am truly in control of my words and then humbles me with a Holy Spirit Reality Check. I hope those butterflies never go away.

I saw my girlfriends in the pews, still lost in the bizarre wonder of their friend being ordained for this stuff. It must be amusing to see me at work and to watch me do things most young women do not. Their smiles and loving eyes remind me that this is all possible: I can be fully myself and fully pastor.

My goddaughter was there with her family, a sassy PK (pastor’s kid) whose dad had the morning off and wanted to check me out in action. The toddler, however, was less concerned with this congregation and my new role because she is currently obsessed with “Matt’s truck” and wanted to see it after worship.

This community is becoming more familiar each day and I feel at home whenever I can connect children to parents, husband to wife, name to face, or person to committee. Having coffee together after worship seems to speed this process nicely. While shaking hands, Pastor Mike Woods approached with an introduction that made my day. He said that Mary Hess, my advisor at Luther Seminary, had introduced him to my blog years ago. He was in town for a reunion during sabbatical and decided to find my congregation.

Mike told me that my writing reminds him of the person on the Verizon Wireless commercials, aware of the communion of saints and with a faithful posse backing me up. Looking around, I had proof that this is true. There were saints visible, my new parishioners and dearest friends, but also saints from far and wide I lean on when the nerves strike.

On July 27, the 8am service at Sierra Ev. Lutheran Church was notified by their intern that I was being ordained during the 10am service at Normandale in Edina - the same hour in Minnesota. I felt them lifting me up and that has made all the difference. I went to seminary because so many encouraged and stayed there because so many challenged. I’ve always thought that church is silly if it remains a social club for a local community and does not connect prayerfully and faithful to the greater church and world across time.

The Bible says that a pastor’s role is to equip the laity. If I can do no other good at St. John’s, I will teach people to recognize their gifts and to call out talents in others. I will invite people to participate and show them that God calls us in many ways to the missio dei. After all, that is what Word and Sacrament ministry is supposed to do and that is what it has done to me.

So thank you, Mike, for coming to visit and for naming the greatest blessing in my life – the saints I meet at the font and table and those I love so dearly that the Word gives me jitters.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Center for Changing Lives

Park Avenue and 24th Street is bustling with construction and vision as the project nears completion. The old Lutheran Social Services (LSS) building is gone, but not the mission and community presence it has provided for the neighborhood for 50 years. I was able to explore the building on a hard-hat tour yesterday and learned more about the plans for this dream that is about to come true.

Here’s what I learned about the Center for Changing Lives:

  • Affordable Housing for 48 families. More than 1,000 families applied for housing here, which proves that the need is great. These units are not labeled transitional, giving the families stability and the freedom to decide how long they want to call the Center for Changing Lives home.
  • Important Services that will assist families and members of the community to feel cared for and surrounded by support and information for their families. These services include employment, housing, counseling, financial, pregnancy, refugee, youth and more.
  • Large Communal Spaces that will provide the neighborhood with meeting spaces and a place to belong.
  • Messiah Lutheran Church will begin worshipping in the Center for Changing Lives on the First Sunday in Advent, marking a new beginning for their community of faith and their strong relationship with the neighborhood. Several of Messiah’s ministries will find space at the Center, including the Kaleidoscope after school program, the clothing closet and the food shelf.
  • Playground Equipment has been purchased by a local company, whose staff will build the playground for residential youth and kids from the local community.
  • A Green Space that is significantly larger than the previous LSS building, but will function on a similar utility budget. The rain gardens and energy efficient materials are helping the Center keep housing and services truly affordable. In fact, 90% of the previous LSS building materials were recycled. Some of them now line the Crosstown/35W exchange!

This is a $27 million project made possible by generous help from federal, state, city, local and private levels. It is exciting to know that so many are involved in making this Center and its ministry possible.

What does the Center for Changing Lives need?

  • If Lutheran Social Services raises $4 million by the end of 2008, the Kreske Foundation will give $1.2 million. Any gift amount makes a difference.
  • Many of the services provided by the Center are made possible by volunteers with interest or expertise in those areas. Interested?
  • Talk to your pastor about having LSS come and share about the Center during an adult forum. The staff is excited about connecting congregations with this ministry and would love to hear from you!
  • Stop by and visit when the project is complete. Families begin moving in September 1 and Messiah begins worshipping at the Center in Advent.

Photos from the Center for Changing Lives Website

Friday, August 22, 2008

Church Mice

I am meeting the tender souls and strong hands that love this church. By church I mean the Body of Christ, living through ministries and the Word alive in our speech and action, and I also mean the building. When you have been the hands and feet of Christ together with others for so long, the house itself becomes dear and meaningful. This church is beloved by many.

One of these servants encouraged me to follow him around the building today. It is a maze of mystery and beauty that stands tall in Tangletown, hiding history behind old doors and holding children in learning and laughter each day.

You can learn a lot about a congregation by following in the footsteps of a faithful member. He taught me about light switches and back stairways, boiler rooms and classrooms. The stories flowed as we wandered and I soaked them in, hoping that someday they would feel like my own precious history. This congregation has been the Body of Christ for nearly 125 years and the building has been standing as a sign of God's faithfulness since the 1920s.

While traditional worship and mainline denominations fade, I am inspired by the immigrants who saved and struggled so that these stones could tell their faith story to the community 90 years ago. Come inside and learn from the stain glass windows like many before you, pulled into the drama of worshiping with ancestors and saints to come. It is one way to know that God's Word is steadfast and that faith produces tender souls and strong hands.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Holy Communion

I come from an over the top family. While we are culturally Lutheran with Nordic emotions, dinners together are usually loud and chaotic. We usually serve food by lining everything up in bowls and on platters across the counter and fill our plates in a first-come-first-serve order. Condiments pour out of the fridge and on to the table. Dozens of almost empty salad dressing bottles and types of steak sauce litter are passed from end to end after we sing grace and finish with a single, booming clap in unison. Perhaps there is some Italian blood in there we have yet to discover.

The Matriarchs in this madness are my mother and her twin sister. If you set them loose on remote beach, they will use small talk to find someone we're distantly related to before dinner. It is in this environment I've grown, knowing third and fourth cousins and reconnecting with people five times removed from me.

Last week I had dinner with the twins and somewhat distant cousins that connect me to Cottonwood, MN and Cape Town, South Africa. It is in these moments filled with memories and connections beyond me, that I believe in the sacredness and stubbornness of Oral Tradition. These women light up and become lost in the stories of ancestors and adventures, becoming and letting go. I often hear the same tale repeated each time I met or hear of a distant auntie or wild woman and simply nod to absorb the urgency with which they share. They tell so that I might know, understand, and remember. That is what the storytellers of long ago did to make sure the word would be recognized into the future.

I smiled to myself as these women engaged over dinner, the volume escalating and laughter encompassing the patio area with each glass of wine poured. The bread pudding came with candles and a faux-birthday was celebrated for the sake of free dessert and a friend in town. Spoons were handed out and they watched her wish on a candle for a birthday to come halfway around the world.

And then the enormous plate was passed from hand to hand until dozens of spoonfuls devoured the food and left women feeling satisfied with the story shared.

Friday, August 8, 2008

A Thin Line

I've been thinking about self-care lately. In seminary we are reminded again and again that spiritual leaders have a reputation for giving too much of themselves without replenishing, reflecting, or resting. Clergy are sometimes stereotyped as out of shape and out of touch with their own emotional and mental health.

Internship was a great opportunity to draw the line concerning "me time" before launching into the world of full-time ministry. It's difficult to set aside time to take care of yourself when there's always more to do. People pat pastors on the back when they're always available and serving, but giving in overdrive fails to set an example for parishioners fighting the temptation to work 50+ hours/week at their own jobs. (It also means there's probably a lack of lay leadership, pastoral trust, and delegation, but that's another entry!)

Technology also makes communication instantaneous, which causes people to expect more from each other. When you're always plugged in and available, finding ways to separate from these expectations and the rush of giving can cease to happen in conscious, habitual ways.

Last week the media was obsessed with John McCain's political ad questioning Barack Obama's decision to work out at the gym instead of arranging a meeting with wounded soldiers on his Tour de Universe. I mention this without political agenda, but because leaders in the public eye will always be praised for spreading themselves too thin and critiqued for not finding time to do more. We want to hear about how normal their home lives are or that they can relate to the average person, but also expect them to live super-human lives.

I was impressed to hear that ANY candidate was making time to take care of his/her body and mind by including physical activity in a jam-packed schedule abroad. I've admired my professors seen taking walks during lunch and pastors who make time to refuel spiritually in creative and life giving ways.

My mother-in-law reminded me last night that rest is described frequently in scripture, holding up the Third Commandment in lots of ways. Scripture is filled with strange rules and legal instructions for life that maintained order and care in the lives of Jewish families and communities. People were expected to change their habits to cause rest during certain seasons in the spiritual calendar and personal life stages. This rest marked change, both the stress and joy that comes from giving of ourselves.

So take care of yourself. Take ten minutes, an hour, or a weekend to rest and mark the things that are happening in your life. Get on a bike or take a walk to a local restaurant, enjoy the weather, nap outside or splurge on fixings for a healthy dinner. Turn off your cell phone, the TV and the things in life that desensitize us and make demands of our "free" time. Allow room for silence, for it is in the quiet many prophets have been called and equipped. It's a thin line between giving yourself generously and having nothing left to give.

Breathe. Pray. Lead well by refilling your own cup.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


I don't feel any different. I don't feel divine or righteous and there is no thin glow radiating from around my head. But I do feel up to the challenge and will ask God to help me. I do feel grateful for the love and support I feel today.

I suppose I should have seen this coming long ago. This is not the first time I've worn red on a festival day (note the shoes - sadly, that was conscious). God has had this in store for me since day one and I have those present this morning to thank for teaching me to hear that call.

This photo is probably framed on God's Ha! I told you so! shelf.

Promises were made this morning by God, the congregation and me. The faith in my heart makes me confident in God's, grateful for those that echoed around me and hopeful about my own. This is a good call. I cannot think of anything I'd rather be set aside for.

Tu che, God. Tu che.

The Homeland

Matt packed pages and pages of family history on this trip. We were prepared to go looking for the old homestead in south central Sweden. Thanks to Matt's great uncle Luther, most of the research was in hand and we were off to explore.

The adventure took us by the original IKEA and to the Emigration Museum of Sweden. We followed clues from Luther's research and winding roads out into the countryside. Signs and familiar descriptions led us deep into the woods where we found the lake. Matt's grandfather's grandfather learned to fish at this lake more than 100 years ago. Lilly pads and birds entertained us as we wandered to find signs of an old paper mill and the foundations of buildings.

The land is a young fisherman's dream. I walked the trails watching Matt discover a cave and an old boat. His grandfather's grandfather left this place when his was ten and settled just west of the St. Croix River, a region that raised Matt and taught him to fish. The more time we spent there, the more the place resembled Scandia, Marine on St. Croix and Lindstrom. And the more I learned about Gustavsfor and legend of Carl Johan Magnuson/John Carlson, the more it felt like my homeland too.

Kyrkan, Kirken, Kirkjan

We honeymooned in Sweden, Norway and Iceland. Of course, this is a silly idea for two students employed part-time. The U.S. dollar isn't exactly holding its own and Scandinavia has an expensive reputation. But we've learned that you are allowed to be foolish and extravagant when planning a honeymoon. People will look the other way and say lovely and supportive things like, "This is just the time to take a trip like that!"

Our days were filled with buffet breakfasts, coffee on the go, tiny rental cars, people watching, hiking in the rain, waterfalls, geysers, glaciers and fjords. We are those people you see in museums and on tours. We've studied up, read every photo's caption and ask for the audio guide headphones. If there's a tour guide, I'm usually in front, asking the dorky questions.

Some of Matt's greatest entertainment came from watching me encounter ancient churches and the congregations of quaint towns. I circle the grounds, take in the view and touch the foundation's stones. I take in every detail of the pulpit's wood and the choir loft's staircase and finger through hymnals. One afternoon, our boat pulled into a small village in the fjords just long enough to board a few more people. The captain shared that the town hosted a famous Stav Church. Matt stood quietly amused as I hustled awkwardly around the bow, searching the skyline for a steeple and wishing I could go find it.

My heart broke a bit when I would stand in some churches with so much spiritual grandeur and history, unable to find an invitation to worship or sign of activity during the week. One Saturday night, we slept in the shadows of a beautiful country church, but there were no bells in the morning or people pouring inside.

Churches are historical sites for so many places and cultures, but is a church still a church when it merely invites tourists in from buses for pictures without a word of proclamation or community?
If others are wooed by these homes of God's mystery like I am, there is good reason to believe they are not finished speaking to God's mission in this world today. They are more than museums and photo stops. They are more than signs of yesterday's Christian life because there are prayers said in their walls by those passing through. The mystery lives there because people from all corners of the globe are still curious about God's house.

May we be the church by holding up the mystery with open doors and words proclaimed.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Here we go!

I begin a third year of blogging only because I would miss so many of you without it! It has been great to keep in touch and meet through comments and conversation, both in AZ at Mountain View and Life at Luther. Now I'm on my own again at tangled up in grace, wading through a wonderful summer of change and excitement.

Matt and I got married on Friday! It was an awesome celebration that started on the Mississippi River Thursday evening. Family and friends arrived in town and we rehearsed before dining on the river in beautiful weather. The boat was a great way to get our loved ones together and mingling before the chaos of Friday and an opportunity for us to say thank you to everyone involved.

The worship service was beautiful! The music was regal and serving communion to our guests was a powerful way to solidify words spoken about the Body of Christ during the sermon. I relished every moments, knowing that it would feel like a big blur later on. The sun cooperated every time Matt and I stepped outside, but storms had their say too. The reception overflowed with good food, fabulous toasts, sweaty and silly dance moves, and a beautiful view of downtown Minneapolis from Nicollet Island.

It's impossible to speak with everyone that night and convey how much they all mean to you, but hugs and smiles abounded. If there were problems, I was too giddy to be approached or too distracted to notice. We had a ball!

On Sunday, we received news that St. John's Lutheran Church in south Minneapolis voted to call me as their Associate Pastor. This possibility has been on our hearts for a few months now and it is good to know that things are official! My ordination date is Sunday, July 27 (10am at Normandale Lutheran Church in Edina) with a potluck lunch to follow. I will begin serving at St. John's in mid-August.

The call process has been a long one and filled with lessons about patience and vocation. I'm so thrilled to be serving a congregation that is theologically equipped and ready to grow in their community. The people I've met thus far have been excited about the history and future of this parish and I'm blessed to be growing with them.