Sunday, December 13, 2009

R 'n' R

Today is the Third Sunday in the season of Advent. It is also Santa Lucia Day. We hear scripture that calls us to repent and rejoice. It is a day of celebration during a dark and anxious season.

Repenting might not sound very celebratory, but it is the best way to begin rejoicing, worship and a new relationship. We begin our services with confession and forgiveness for this very reason - we come inside God's house and put all the heavy and shameful stuff down before moving toward joy and praise. Because we confess these things, corporately and personally, God releases us from their weight with rich and holy forgiveness.

Repentance might sound like a drag unless we believe and experience the freedom that comes from divine forgiveness. John the Baptizer knew that repenting was necessary for true joy in God, so he preached confession as he prepared the way for Christ's coming. He urged the people to put down the heavy secrets they carried so their hands would be free for godly things and authentic praise.

Today there are plenty of reasons to be afraid and hopeless, but John comes to declare the bright light of faith that taunts the darkness with it's trust in things to come. He announces the one who will echo old prophets and rejoicing angels with strong words: Do not be afraid.

December 13 is also my baptism birthday, which sent me on a scavenger hunt for my baptism candle. I found it at the bottom of my keepsake box, its length proof that there has been no ceremonial lighting since 1981. Today I lit it from the tall Christ candle that stands by our font at St. John's and watched the flame dance. Although it took 28 years to light this candle again, it's flame never really went out. My baptism has called me to repent and rejoice for almost three decades, to move from my own life to the world's needs again and again. That is proof that hope is in the smallest places; water and word poured over an infant invited my small life into God's grand scheme, causing purpose for now and hope for things to come.

Today is a day of light and life, repentance and rejoicing. May the three flames atop the Advent wreath inspire excitement about the things to come and may the flame that dances out of your own baptism burn brightly.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Five Reasons to Pledge

In the season of stewardship, I'm reminded how important it is to promise our generous hearts again and again. Revisiting what we value and what we can share is at the core of discipleship and spiritual growth. I'm a big fan of this habit and here are five reasons you can be, too:

1. Taking the Time. Reflecting about and discussing your gifts as a household or congregation is an important way to witness the way your life changes over time. It happens in a more stoic way when you fill out tax forms: you watch your education, income, investments and liabilities change with each passing year. Taking time to consider these responsibilities from a spiritual perspective can change the way you experience writing checks, paying bills and sharing your gifts.

2. Sharing, not Losing. Whenever I sit in the pews and see the offering plate coming, I fumble through my wallet. It's an awkward moment while I hope for a bill that is "enough", but "not too much". I'll admit that tossing that crumpled bill into the plate feels more like losing than sharing. Giving sporadically and last minute doesn't usually feel generous and that's because it comes from a moment of pressure that does not make time for the reflection I mentioned above. Planning to give connects us to the ritual in a thoughtful and joyful way that can transform our stewardship theology.

3. Worthy gifts. Many people don't pledge because they don't think the amount they share is worthy of being proclaimed and promised ahead of time. Yikes! Whether you commit to sharing $1 or $1,000 a week, it matters and it makes a difference. Whatever you have to give is worthy of being shared.

4. Word and deed. Making a promise and acting on it again and again is a physical lesson about God's love for us. Every time God forgives us and renews us through our baptism, God is keeping that big promise made through Jesus Christ. With each grace-filled act in relationship with us, God recalls the promise and it becomes new again. Pledging is a bold and simple way to respond to God's promise and action in our lives.

5. Body of Christ. Have you ever watched pledge cards pile up in a basket or offering plate? Those promises add up to do miraculous things in the name of God. Committing to share your gifts means standing together with your Christian brothers and sisters in ministry and mission for a purpose beyond yourself. It means trusting that together our gifts are divine abundance, more than enough to change the world.

Lord, blessings abound in you. Teach us to trust that what you provide is more than enough. Open our hands and satisfy our hearts. Amen.

Monday, November 16, 2009

And two shall become one. It's fool proof!

I asked Berit to be my wedding coordinator for several reasons. Our moms are identical twin sisters and sometimes we can be so in sync, it's startling. Being on the same page in the height of chaos would be important.

Berit works in early childhood with families, small children and toddlers. That means she deals with boundary and ownership issues all day and can definitely handle the big personalities, a rowdy bridesmaid or a mother who thinks it's all about her. I also knew she would take the responsibility seriously, finding ways to go above and beyond the job description.

Each wedding taught has us new ways to be more efficient or flexible and we learned from every mistake made behind the scenes. I also watched Berit really enjoy each couple - I saw her crouch down with the tiny flower girls and ring bearers, cheering them down the 90 ft. aisle from her discreet niche in the narthex. I watched her find a bride who wandered off and teach ushers the ropes.

As I preached about becoming one flesh and the power of marriage, Berit and I were also becoming one. Our last wedding of the season was this weekend and it was anything but stressful. Each event has taught us something about time management and organization. Coming up with creative communication strategies earned a subtle, genetic victory dance and the phrase, "It's fool proof!". As the season progressed, we had to check in with each other less often and things became second nature. I don't want to brag, but we were awesome. Seriously. I'm glad you weren't there because you would have regretted not having us at your own wedding.

And really. Who wouldn't want these two in charge of their special day?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Cleaning for Company

It was late afternoon and the sunlight pouring through the stained glass was enough to brighten the chancel while I worked. There are two worship environment saints named Marj and Lori who usually get to change the paraments, but today I had the honor.

The silence was soothing as I folded the woven green that usually hangs on the lectern and pulpit. I pulled out boxes and opened closets in the sacristy making sure I was choosing the appropriate set of white for All Saints Day.

In the busyness of ministry and life, it was good to do something slowly. Paying attention to the smallest details and deciding not to rush was calming and the simple task of preparing a space became entirely holy. As I ironed the crease in the altar linen and stood back among the pews to admire the chancel, I felt gratitude for the beauty at work in cleaning for company and the eagerness I felt for Sunday's celebration of saints before us, among us and beyond us.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Merry as a Wedding Bell

Steve dropped me off at the little church on Juddville Road and promised to come back for me. I walked up the steps, imagining her wedding here in case of wind and rain. Stry asked me to officiate her wedding months ago and I was thrilled to agree. But fall in Door County can mean an outdoor wedding is either beautiful or vulnerable…or both. If the ceremony couldn’t be on the beach with a wide view of the lake, it would be here in this quaint, country church. I was preparing for the worst and the worst wasn’t looking so bad.

The narthex was small and led straight into a petite sanctuary with pews for an intimate Sunday. A portrait of Swedish Jesus hung behind the organ, adorned with its own lighting and a handcrafted frame. I wandered into the chancel and found the red, eternal flame to have a power chord. My fingers played with it gently, flipping it on and off.

The sacristy seemed to double as an office and was empty, so I searched for basement stairs and my appointment. “Hello?” I sang as I descended into the fellowship hall. A friendly-looking man came into view as I got my bearings and I asked if he had seen the pastor that morning. “I don’t know that he’s here yet. Are you going to help us this morning?” It seemed I’d arrived just in time to help fold the monthly newsletter.

“I’m not, actually,” and gave a sheepish smile. “I might be doing a wedding here on Sunday if the weather is grim, so I’m supposed to meet the pastor today and learn the ropes…but I’d love to help with the newsletter, too. My ride might not be back for awhile.” He continued with a firm handshake and introduced himself as Fred. Then he took my coffee cup I’d traveled in with and proceeded to fill it up for the first of many times.

When I found the pastor, it was clear that this was a place of welcome. He told me everything I needed to know about the space, lighting, sound and security. Shame on me, but soon I was hoping for rain.

Since the tour took far less time than I’d anticipated, I headed back downstairs to be useful and to find a refill. “We used to have a third helper and it was much easier that way. I’m so glad you’re here today!” Fred confessed. Jana took the pages from the copier and folded while Fred attached the white circle that seals it closed. I labeled each copy with a recipient and noted the geographical stretch of this little place.

“Is your church very big?”

“Do you have a lot of volunteers at your church?”

“What is worship like there?”

And so a conversation began about membership and what bold stewardship can mean for small congregations. We had plenty in common and shared passions for the communities of faith we hold dear. I learned much from these disciples who believe in their vocations.

The next evening the wind whipped us inside the little church and we celebrated the covenant of marriage with Swedish Jesus looking on. It was beautiful. When the ceremony was over, the doors were opened wide and the wild wind of fall blew inside. The recessional brought waves of music from the string quartet out into the churchyard, showering the graves and fallen leaves with joy.

And as people walked back out into the beautiful and vulnerable weather that is autumn, I reached for the church bell, ringing it with my whole body and all of my delight. A wedding guest approached me later and said, “Have you ever heard the phrase merry as a wedding bell? Because that’s what you are!”

Perhaps that's because the wonders of new people and new vows live on long after you switch off the electric eternal flame and lock up a church that has graced you with its welcome.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Everyone has a Stewardship Story

Tonight I was at the seminary for a stewardship event that welcomed new students and introduced them to the concept of financial coaches. I come home grateful.

I didn't balance my check book or keep my receipts. I didn't know what my credit score was or how to take out a loan. But I did come to seminary debt free and paid all my bills on time. I did know how to ask for help and knew that I'd need to learn something about personal finance and stewardship if I wanted to create healthy money habits in my personal and, eventually, my public life.

In 2004, eight of us signed up for a financial coach. I remember sitting down to lunch with Tom for the first time and handing over the truth: I don't have any debt yet, but I do have some scholarships. I'd like to think I'm thrifty, but I've never really stuck to a budget. Help me figure this out and hold me accountable. I don't think of myself as a money person - I don't think anyone thinks of me like that - so I'll need some validation along the way.

Our conversations were simple but fruitful. Here, in the presence of a stranger who did not judge my actions or let me off the hook, we formed the stewardship identity I wanted. Together we shaped the way I would relate my values and resources during seminary and beyond.

Internship gave me an opportunity to budget on a more fixed income and to practice the ups and downs of a financial year. I saved for flights home and future tuition payments. I shared with my congregation and causes close to my heart. I spent wisely and it felt good.

Senior year I worked in the Seminary Relations office. My job was to thank people. Seriously. 12-20 hours each week I wrote letters, called people and shared my gratitude at donor events. I was saturated with thankfulness and an appreciation for the simple joy of giving. I will always remember Dorothy Lee's words at the Women in Philanthropy Tea: I was confused when I learned that the seminary was calling me a woman in philanthropy, but I'm also tickled because if I can be a philanthropist, anyone can! And that day I decided to believe her.

Matt and I got married about a month after graduation. We sat down to talk about our finances, wanting to start with our gift to the church because we were taught to share the first fruits. We were quiet for a few minutes and then admitted that we didn't know what the first fruits would be! I was starting my first call later that summer and he was still in school, working his tail off for a stipend and paying off loans of his own. Then Matt said, I don't know what the numbers are going to look like, but I think we should give more to church than we do to Comcast. I hate Comcast and still shell out $105 for cable and internet each month. So let's start there and pledge that no matter the numbers, we're giving more to the church, something we actually like and believe in, than to the bill I begrudgingly pay each month.

We crunched the numbers and by September we were giving three times what we paid to Comcast. This was a joyful place to start and from here we began the journey of working toward a tithe. All year we have logged our income and payments on a simple excel program we store and share via Google Documents. This keeps the lines of communication open about our sharing, spending and saving and keep us on the same page - literally. Matt and I make plenty of mistakes and don't always see eye to eye about our financial choices, but our values align and that makes all the difference. I've come a long way from occasionally checking my account balances online.

Matt and I will never make millions of dollars in our professions, but it will be more than enough. We're flying high on good communication, healthy habits and the pride we take in our two year plan to be student debt free. The recession is woven into my prayer life everyday, but I am not swept away by the chaos and mania of scarcity that the media provides. The system I started to discover five years ago with a financial coach includes controlling what's controllable and believing in God's abundance.

The best news of all? Having a financial coach sparked a series of events that has led me to a congregation hungry for the gospel of stewardship and the true message of satisfaction in a world that preaches never enough. Stewardship became an important part of my public identity. I went from being a 23 year old girl who didn't think she was a money person to a woman and pastor who is brave enough to talk about money. And I urge you to take up the conversation. It's a worthy journey and an invaluable gift.

I'm grateful, Tom and Luther Seminary. I'm still writing my stewardship story, but this first draft is thanks to you.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Heartbreaking and Hopeful

I have known this vote was coming since I was discerning which seminary to attend six years ago. I have tried to be patient and I’ve tried to listen more than I speak. Being a rostered leader means my words and actions represent the ELCA. Serving a particular congregation means I walk at their tempo and I represent them publicly.

These responsibilities have caused some of my personal passions, beliefs and opinions to be sidelined on occasion – an important exercise for a zealous extrovert like me. But as participants in the ELCA Churchwide Assembly come from across the country and gather in my neighborhood, I am overwhelmed by the biblical theology and emotional systematics dovetailing in my heart and throwing up onto this blog.

1. I am both heartbroken and hopeful every time I have a conversation about sexuality and the church. It is discouraging that this debate is the only thing the media covers and that one decisive action from this broad and powerful assembly advertises us as a divisive body instead of the faithfully united one I know and love. I wish the Star Tribune would report on the HIV/AIDS strategy funding or the exciting stories of mission starts and emergent church bodies bearing the fruit of the Spirit. I wish judgmental spectators could know about the other valuable social and sexual issues we care so deeply about.

But it is encouraging to hear people talk truthfully about what it means to be church to all people – to welcome them in as they are and as we have been welcomed in. I am hopeful when I hear people admit that doing it is harder than simply talking about it. I am hopeful when I see others committed to living in the grey while we figure out what that looks like together.

2. I am both heartbroken and hopeful watching the live stream online, listening to the debates we have been having for thirty years about the GLBT community and their place in the church. I am heartbroken when I hear wonderful people described as an issue with words like “animalistic” or “barbaric”, but I am hopeful when I hear members step to the microphone and share a brief story about someone they’ve met at the assembly with a different view and a different vote. They speak with new clarity and compassion, and that gives me hope that we will not fall apart just yet.

I am related to people who say they will leave the ELCA if the vote is confirmed and I am related to people who say they will leave if it does not pass, but my prayer is that they all remain. I moved forward through the gauntlet of candidacy with some straight people who might have been called, but were mediocre preachers or uncomfortable giving pastoral care. I watched others become tangled up in candidacy because they refused to hide their sexual orientation, confident that God is calling all of who they are. These folks are ensnared in rules, but I get goose bumps thinking about their preaching, their compassion and their obvious vocation as ordained leaders in the church. This is not a black or white issue in my heart, my life, or my scriptural study.

3. I am appalled by the self-appointed prophets who deem Wednesday’s weather to be direct judgment from God, but I am impressed by the droves of people who are brave enough to explore the ambiguity of what it means to be both sinners and saints, saved by the cross of Christ. It is a far easier thing live on one end of the spectrum, affirming yourself and those like you while pointing out the specks in the eyes of others down the line.

I choose to live in the grey because I’m pretty sure Jesus lives there. He was in the mucky middle every time he touched someone or invited someone to break bread. That’s where I’ve got to be if I’m going to run into him doing miraculous things. I choose to live in the grey because ambiguity is not always a bad thing. It means admitting that, even when steeped in scripture, I don’t know everything and that some things will be decided beyond my intelligence and according to God’s perfect will. I choose to live in the grey because I cannot bear to read only some texts or to digest them in only one way – none of us take the scriptures literally unless we are reading them in their original language in the original contexts. We are all interpreters of scripture and I will not be thought less biblically faithful because I am willing to admit that.

It’s here in the grey we can admit that this stuff is really hard and that God’s plan for reconciliation might be much bigger than our restrictions on who can commune with us or our definitions of “life abundant”. It might even be bigger than sexual orientation in the pulpit (and by the way, the pulpit happens to be the most sexless place I can think of, but we’ve put it there anyway).

I write this without knowing how the fourth resolution turns out, but confident that I will, of course, remain in the ELCA tomorrow regardless of the outcome. With or without these resolutions, it is my call and duty to make sure all people know that Christ came for them and that divine reconciliation is a radical thing that lives even beyond the argument about whether homosexuality is a sin, the limited expectations of celibacy, the fear of the unfamiliar and this divisive discord.

Even beyond all of these things.

I’m just sure of it.

In fact, this sinner is betting her life on it.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Walk On

Every 4th of July my family plays golf together and sometimes it gets competitive or overly analytical. The morning of the scramble tournament is filled with adrenaline and team theme music. Sometimes the excitement turns tense, but we don't play for the love of trash talk or for pride alone. We play because we have all been taught to love the wildly complicated game of golf and it marks the years in a language we all speak.

When you strip away the messy things about our tournament and the hubris of competition, you will find 11 people who have a simple love for the game. We will speak about the sweet ping of a solid tee shot or the bond created by teammates lining up a crucial put together. This was the first year I haven't played in...forever and it was strange. But the game of golf lives beyond the family tournament. It lives anywhere I can buy a Nutroll and stick extra tees in my ponytail. It lives anywhere I can pull second ball from my bag when that first chip gets away from me and it lives in my heart, which tells me to play and score the first, more miserable shot.

This video speaks to the way golf can capture your heart as a dialect of life and an obsession - not with being perfect or even good - but with moving forward. If you love the game or you love someone who does, take twelve minutes and watch someone fueled by a simple love to move forward. And if your eyes start to water, don't worry. The air was dusty when I watched, too.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Yesterday we celebrated our one year anniversary. All year we've worn these precious bands engraved with three, simple letters. Together they form the Hebrew word chesed, which is translated several ways.

It's God's steadfast love and the mercy that lasts forever. It's the patient faithfulness at work in God's promises to us. Chesed is the way God intends for us to live in the covenant of marriage.

It's good to see these three, loaded letters on my finger every day. They preach marriage in the everyday law and gospel of being together. Chesed is a good reminder to fight fair and communicate well. It reminds me about the length of God's promise to us and the journey that our promise will become in time.

This first anniversary makes me especially grateful for the marriages we have witnessed growing up. We are blessed to know parents who share power and love fiercely. They argued in front of us and we got to watch them work it out, learning that discord can be healthy and normal. They've handled their marriages with great care, speaking well of each other and living with mercy. I'm sure that our marriage is stronger for the way they practice God's loving faithfulness in their own marital promises.

Whatever you celebrate and cherish this summer - whatever promises you have made and strive to keep - be inspired by the divine example of God's perfect covenant with us. May it teach us steadfast love in all the ways we are called to be faithful people.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

I hold you in my heart.

I rarely open the Book of Occasional Services in my ministry. While it means well, I've found the pages too formal for the grief I encounter among solemn strangers or new parishioners. The liturgy is too high for small hospital rooms or quaint living rooms filled with antiques and family photos.

Still, I clutch it when I am called into the unfair and unfortunate places. It brings me comfort to know that others have also held it while they wish for the right words or patience during the long silences of sorrow. And though I rarely open it, the book is usually there.

I found it in my hands the other day and opened it to the black bookmark - the consolation of the dying - before going to see someone I am going to miss. Out tumbled scraps of paper and post-it notes filled with names, illnesses, hopes and idiosyncrasies. I sat down on the floor in my office and read through them one by one.

While I cannot connect some of their faces with their names, I remember how holding the hand of a dead person first felt or the holiness of gathering family around a bed to share their love and say goodbye. I remember baptizing a dwarfed and stillborn baby named Jose - not because it was theologically correct, but because it sealed his broken mother with new promises and affirmed her role as Life Giver. I remember walking out to my car in the monsoon rains one night and sobbing in my humid car with the death of a saint aching within me. I remember painting the fingernails of a swollen stroke victim who needed to feel beautiful before she passed. I remember burying people without knowing much about them at all.

While some of these notes are only a name or room number, they are filled with promises from God and moments that have sealed the unfamiliar and acquaintance in my depths. And so I could not discard John, Ruth, Jose or the phone numbers of families I met with to plan funerals. They remain in the book where I will find them written, occasionally or rarely, though I always hold them in my heart.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Good Memories, Better Dreams

As I drove down to Northfield again for Bror's graduation on Sunday, I was filled with happy nostalgia. It's been five years since my own graduation and approaching the hill on a sunny afternoon brought back all the best memories of campus.

I winded through side roads to a parking spot near the football field and looked up at the buildings that hold the stories of many. Mine live in those walls, too, and I smiled thinking about the ways I grew and changed here. Campus was filled with old friends saying hello and young friends saying goodbye. Each bench under a shady tree and every stretch of sidewalk live on as beloved places in my history.

But the thing that made me most joyful about the trip down memory lane was the surprise I felt remembering the women my dearest friends use to be five years ago. I realized that I think about them all in the present tense these days - who they are and where they are today - instead of living in the memories college. While many of us don't see each other often and none of us live together anymore, we are good about staying in touch about today and tomorrow, choosing to recall the past fondly now and then.

Wandering around the hill showed me countless ways the strong and beautiful women I call my friends were shaped and formed by this place. I remembered our ex-boyfriends, relationships that ended but did not fail because we learned something from each one. I walked the long path down from Thorson Hall and up to Old Main thinking about the cold mornings Helen trekked to her Hispanic studies classes, slowly becoming the advocate for peace and learning Bolivia now holds dear.

I thought about long dinners in the cafeteria and trying to sneak a mid-morning bagel out past the lady who guarded the exit. There were lazy Saturdays that meant waking up slowly, one at a time, and piecing together the events and hilarity of the night before once everyone was gathered. We would curl up together in laughter, embracing our bedhead and wiping at our smudged eye makeup in the weekend calm.

But these are not the ways I remember my dearest women on most days. Usually they live in my heart as businesswomen and coaches, educators and visionaries who have been around the block once or twice. They've been to graduate school, moved away or worked hard enough to notice that there are now younger, more inexperienced versions of ourselves in the office and its time to decide what kind of mentor and boss we want to be.

Even though I cherish the women I remember from our own day of caps and gowns, I am most grateful for the women they've become - the women this place prepared them all to be. So when it was time to go, I found myself feeling the same happy nostalgia driving away from campus, confident that there are many cap and gown days ahead no matter where I go.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The scent of Golf.

On Monday I cruised down to Northfield for some quality time with my younger-younger brother. He was a happy camper after a successful performance during his last collegiate tournament. Our round was filled with stories he had saved for our time together. Some spanned two or three holes, pausing as we separated to walk to our shots and then resuming over the sweet clinking of our clubs as we continued toward the green.

This was my first time on the course this spring and my game was predictable: one great shot, one awkward but playable shot and then one embarrassing blooper. But the smell of my golf glove and the quiet moment before each back swing made up for each ball tipped into the woods. I stored my tees atop my ponytail and squinted into the twilight sun to find the pin while we talked about slope, wind and distance.

Much of the week leading up to this visit was spent discussing with eagerness our plans to dine at Chapati. We were heartbroken to find a "Closed on Mondays" sign and stood moping in front of the Archer House for several minutes before Bror proposed an alternative. While "Kurry Kabob" sounded like a second rate option, I indulged him and we soon found ourselves knee deep in more Indian food than we could handle in one sitting. We left with four doggie bags and set out for Bror's abode.

"I'm not going to apologize for how messy and gross this is going to be because it's pretty much always this bad."

"That's okay. My expectations are really low." Nine college seniors and two dogs under one roof looks about how you're picturing it. But I've had a tetanus shot recently and the stench retreated as spring air moved through open windows. Instead, I remembered how wonderful it can be to live in such close quarters with your best friends at 22. You share things, eat together, stay up way too late and host parties with unusual and laughable themes. It's a good time to be sharing dirt and bathtub scum.

Before I left, we walked the dogs around the block and I watched the lights from the Hill shine sweetly over those taking a night run and a few ambling home from the library. These are precious days and it's good to see my brother embracing them with such joy and appreciation. I drove away grateful for these hours and the scent of Golf on my hands.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

(Im)perfect Church

It is always the season of Easter when I find myself wandering aimlessly through the book of Acts. While it sounds like a good idea – learning about the early church while participating in the season of new life and resurrection here in the 21st century – it is messier than I remember.

Last week I preached on the lectionary texts that included Acts 4:32-35. This snippet of the early church seems to describe a hippie commune or socialism at its very best(?). Everyone is getting along and living in harmony. They share possessions and property, giving to all who are in need…for four verses.

Many church starts find that they are so busy with the big picture and becoming stable and steady that there isn’t time or energy to argue about the little things. Disagreements and division come later and the good ol’ days never last very long. By chapter five of Acts, drama erupts about land being sold. Peter is shouting about Satan and calling someone a liar before he drops dead and everyone watching silently freaks out. The four verse harmony in Acts short lived. And it is both beautiful and discouraging to a young, optimistic pastor of today's church.

The good news about Easter is certainly happening the morning we celebrate resurrection in all its glory. People pour into pews they haven’t graced since Christmas and hear about the miracle that is bigger than one Sunday or one worship service. Then I hold my breath for folks to return in celebration of the Easter season, hoping others are hungry to know what an empty tomb means for tomorrow and the next day.

I could write about the two endings in Mark’s gospel and why I love the first one all day long. But there is something grand about the second, longer ending to his account. When Jesus appears to the disciples – the ones who never quite understood his teachings, the ones who betrayed him the day he died, the ones who hid in fear after the crucifixion – Jesus has two words for them. He gives them both law and gospel.

Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” - Mark 16:14-15

Hey, kids. I stopped by to let you know that hiding behind these locked doors isn't doing anyone any good. You’re doing a crappy job being my followers right now and your faith is pretty shaky. But that doesn’t mean I’m done with you. It doesn’t mean I can’t use you. So even though you are not perfect – even though you get in the way sometimes or let confusion and fear overwhelm – I’m calling you into this mission because I love and choose you. I am here because I claim you and give you power in my name. I am sending you to tell of my kingdom boldly and to participate in the miracle I have created for the sake of the world.

God does not require perfection, but finds ways to weave his righteousness into our silly and messy lives. And it takes a wonderful God to do things the slow, tricky and creative way by calling us into participation. It takes a God who can tell it how it is and then invite us along. It takes a God who never gives up, who keeps promises and who makes things new with a Word every Easter day.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Finally. The Rising.

Easter morning was a fabulous blur. I arrived early and collected my thoughts for worship. Then I flitted around during the pancake breakfast with no real duties, just connecting people and greeting family members in town for the weekend.
People poured into the sanctuary, laughing and greeting each other. The pews were packed and I was overjoyed seeing so many people at worship. The banners streaked across the high ceiling, drawing our attention to the front window: a cross and a glorious Jesus promising to be with us always. I believe you.

When I got home, I noticed the tulips planted this fall poking through. It sounds small and cliche - new life, rebirth - but this is the first time I've ever seen something I've planted breaking through death and coming alive with green shoots. Spring is truly here and the signs are all around us. May your Easter season be filled with banners bright and green shoots - signs of hope everlasting!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

That's True.

I had to focus on the Words of Institution as I looked out at their eager faces. Six of our young people were about to receive their First Communion. One pressed his palms against the pew ahead and hoisted himself high off the ground to see better. Others looked around for each other with big smiles or made a serious effort to follow along in the bulletin. For a moment, they were all looking at the bread and wine, hungry and thirsty. What a privilege to serve this meal.

During our First Communion class, I pulled out a beautiful quilt made by loving members of my internship church. Each patch tells a different story through soft fabric patterns – the garden, the grains of wheat, Jacob’s ladder, the Star of David – and when it covers me, I am draped in the story that saves.

We talked about how worship is much like my quilt. Everything we do helps to tell the story – our stained glass windows, our hymns, the scripture read, prayers spoken and peace shared. “If there were a center patch in my quilt, it would be Holy Communion. Some people think the sermon is the most important part of the service, but it’s not.” And then we talked about the bread and wine. I gave them a tour of the sacristy and we walked through the morning routine of filling wine cups and placing the elements in the rear of the nave. “So we can see it when we walk in?” That’s true.

One brilliant girl asked why we never use banana bread. A beloved boy made the connection that we can’t see Jesus when he comes with the meal, but we can taste him. That’s true. They all double checked that the grape juice is white, not purple, and were swept up in the mystery of Jesus telling us to do this even two thousand years later.

And so, on this Maundy Thursday at dusk, I watched holy and innocent faith hold out its hands. Some smiled wildly and others contained their glee with a mask of reverence. But after the service, they all danced with joy on the courtyard lawn. We tore the rest of the bread into little pieces and, with the same glad respect they had at the altar, returned the extra bread to creation and fed the birds. “The best part is, we get to take communion again this Sunday…and every Sunday!” That’s true.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A watched pot boils all day.

Every spring, my girlfriends and I head to the Northwoods of Wisconsin for a ritual we've all grown to cherish. Our dear Strom is a woman of the woods and her parents still live in a beautiful log cabin they built on the river 25 years ago. As the waters thaw and the trees come alive, it is time to sap Maple Syrup and stand together in fellowship while it boils all day and night.

We play a very minor role in this tradition and are mostly sedentary over a brunch complete with blueberry pancakes or in lawn chairs near the fire. Some even dare to brave the river in canoes, though I have refused to make amends with the first bend since I tipped over three years ago and sat clinging to a log in my icy float jacket! I am still mocked for my superstition - that only this river has it out for me. So I held Strom's dog, Leinie, back as they loaded canoes. She was eager to join them and only causing tippy chaos with her 3 year old enthusiasm.

We wander through the woods, through trees tapped and draped with sap bags like catheters. It's time apart from the city and the weekend errands that usually plague Saturdays. Time with Strom's parents is an annual prescription for sanity. I stood in the kitchen with Lynn and we talked while she made a salad with wild rice from this land and fresh fruit that looked crisp. She has known me since I moved in with her daughter on our first day of college. Lynn has known of every major considered, boy dated, and house rented over the years, so the conversation is easy and appreciated. Nine years later, there is married life and a career to inquire about.

Outside Papa Phil is giving a tour of his work shed, anticipating rice season with satisfaction and pride. He's got rules about how close we can stand to the fire and thinks everyone should have another hot dog, giving us ample opportunity to tease and test him like good daughters. And he loves it. When I get him good, he comes back with a dare to brave the river this year. Maybe next year, I concede.

Today the temperature has the sap frozen in the bags and our usual task of hauling it up the hill is cancelled. It is just cold enough to choose red wine over beer, and we pass the Tostitos with lime back and forth, useless stumps. As I cuddle with a friend to keep warm, good conversation and fresh air wash over us. What Holy Communion.

These photos were stolen maliciously from Maren's Facebook page. Thanks, Mars.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Suddenly...Nothing Happened

The day flew by and I was lost in the rhythm of chaos. What? Chaos doesn't have a rhythm? It does when you do it for a few days in a row. With the rain pouring down outside, I was keeping busy at church and getting very organized for spring and summer.

The rain fell harder by dinner and I found shelter in my car. Traffic inched slowly north as I headed to Pastor Mark's house for a meeting. The sweet probability that his wife, Jody, would serve wine kept me alert and entertained as I migrated slowly from the city.

My CD player changed and my favorite song came on. I'd never heard it until my brother put it on a "Christmas Hit List" he made me this year and it is the ultimate comfort as I drive through this dulling recession, an aggressive winter and the day's general ambiguity. The song is my prayer for anyone holding her breath and waiting for life to increase, calm down or brighten up. I mysteriously tear up when I hear these lyrics and think about those waiting for a job interview or news about a new chance at a dream. Take a minute and listen. I'm curious about whether it says anything to you.

Click Here to Listen to Colin Hay Band's "Waiting for my Real Life to Begin"

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Church Basement Ladies - The 2009 Edition

Ten years ago I went to Bangladesh with 12 other teenagers. Today, I made brunch for three of them, the women I lovingly refer to as my fellow Church Basement Ladies. We all grew up actively involved at Normandale throughout adolescents and young adulthood. Though I didn't attend high school with them, some of my favorite memories stem from our time together on the other side of the world or leading senior high groups since then.

Annie was the first one to find me when I got sick in Dinajpur. I went to college with Sarah and later, we attended seminary together for a year. Sarah and Katherine and I worked at Bible camp together, forming new summertime bonds. Katherine was by my side in 2004 when we returned to Bangladesh, fell in love again, and wiped tears as we said goodbye to a place that holds our hearts. I sang in the choir at Annie's dad's funeral and still think of him during Lent and when I hear the hymn Day by Day.

A small part of me is grateful for the recession and the push it gives women my age to invite people over for affordable, homemade time together instead of meeting out for drink$ or dinner. It was good to have these spiritual sisters in my home, sharing and laughing over good food. We talked work, love, gossip and (of course) Church. In this new age of America and faith, thank God for great traditions plugging on in new form and new bodies. The Church Basement Ladies live on!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


I've never been so excited about Texas. The happy recipient of a free flight and free lodging, I've spent the past few days in Fort Worth with the Gophers Baseball Team on their spring break, playing in the sunshine.

Our hotel room doubles as the training room, where athletes come to get electronic stimulation or ultra sound. Matt stretches them and checks in with their rehab care on our bed. Meeting these guys in such...intimate circumstances means learning more about Matt's 33 illegitimate children - the athletes who come to him with their head colds and muscle tears. Before their weight lifting afternoons or evening games, I get to watch Matt work. It's hard to describe the pride I feel while he works patiently with each player. He knows the whiners from the tough guys, how to prevent injury and how to help them bounce back from it. They seem to adore him.

When he wasn't working, we wandered the stockyards of Fort Worth or sat in the sun. He vented and bragged and now it was much easier to empathize and celebrate. Once his afternoon duties began, I would relish the alone time - little bits of solitude and vacation. At night I would brave the metroplex traffic and bring extra clothing into the stadium. As the sun set, I would slowly add a layer or find a hot dog for dinner while cheering on the Gophers with parents and fans. I would watch one player's grandparents in their lovely ritual - he would give her his windbreaker for extra warmth while she sat and he would pace below, too excited (and cold?) to sit down, but still close enough to talk to his beloved between innings.

Matt would turn and smile every now and then, as if to make sure I was really there. And I was. - cheering and yelling plenty. After the game, I would meet Matt back at the "training room" with a pint of ice cream and a few minutes to ourselves. Then the players would come, bringing their scraps and aches before bed.

I head home thinking about how different our jobs are, but how similar our vocations are: listening, healing, helping, connecting and hoping. It was good to be off duty for a few days and to watch him be "on".

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I have a green ball.

It's funny working in the same building as an energetic child care center. Kids are everywhere, marching up and down stairs, playing in the fellowship hall/gym and stinking up the copy room hallway by late afternoon.

One of these tiny toddlers was the first to welcome me for my first interview last March. I had come through a thick snowfall and opened the dark doors, shaking the snowflakes from my hair. Inside, a train of little people were holding hands and walking from one room to another. A black-haired little girl broke rank and walked right up to me, in awe of the snowy day that blew by as the door closed behind me. "Well, hello there!" she said with pure happiness and welcome in her voice.

Well, hello. I still see her around and she makes me smile - the first of many signs that St. John's would welcome me inside.

This morning I walked through the fellowship hall/gym when the smallest kids were making forts and pretending to be animals. They had their teachers laughing hysterically as they roared like lions. Coming back from my errand, a little one toddled up, pulled up his shirt and pointed to his belly button with proud satisfaction. His words were a pre-English blurb I couldn't decode until a little girl came up beside him. "And I have one too, but yours IS big!" More gibberish followed. "My dad is like is same grandpa too." So cute...but huh?

Others joined, coming out of their forts to check me out. "I have a green ball," one would declare. Then another would approach with their own prop. "My ball purple!" Soon, they were all playing catch with me at once and I laughed, trying to keep up. When my day gets long or I need a smile, I know that these belly buttons have the power to cheer anyone up with a roar or a green ball. So I listen for them coming in the hallways, testing the echo and squealing with joy.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Seeking the Story

Depression Breakfast - Sugar Cookies and Coffee

By clicking on the link above, you'll find Depression Cooking, a YouTube subscription that features a 93 year old woman in her kitchen making low budget dishes from her past and sharing stories about life in the 1930s. Clara's first episode in 2007 has been watched by more than 200,000 fans.

Ten years ago, people my age might not have shown interest in Clara's ingenuity and sharp memories, but today viewers post thoughtful comments about how funny and sweet she is to share. Something about our current climate and context has linked young people with her, causing us to look to Clara and her generation for wisdom and comfort.

More people have been coming through the doors of churches lately, perhaps fueled by a similar nostalgia and curiosity. Where do I come from? What is my story? They ask important questions and are willing to wait while the bread cools or while Clara opens a can of peas. Then she sits on her sofa with an old photo album, pointing to black and white photographs that fuel her tales and invite us into the story.

Here are the photographs that prove we survived and grew stronger. Here are the people who wandered the Great Depression's wilderness and found faith in the little things.

May Clara graft you into her story and may the church to the same, calling you into the Lenten journey and through the darkness into Promise.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Miracle

In theory, I would find a way to worship most Sundays apart from St. John's at congregations offering services around my worship schedule. Serving in a metropolitan area offers these perks: collegiality, collaboration and the opportunity to worship in the pews.

As coffee hour slowed, I locked up and headed northeast to El Milagro, a Spanish-speaking Lutheran church in Minneapolis. My cousin is in town and I'd been meaning to explore this place with her. I drive by El Milagro (The Miracle) every day and seeing it reminds me of the times I have worshiped in a language I don't understand. A Xhosa church in South Africa had me beating my hand on a percussion pad and trying to make my mouth click as we sang hymns with melodies I must have known in another life. Bangladeshi Christians had me dancing on Christmas Eve and rocking to the rhythm of what felt like the Lord's Prayer.

The sound of tambourines met us as we entered and we followed our noses to incense in the sanctuary. My cousin understood much more than I could translate, but the liturgy's grace kept me in tune. I had preached that morning and knew the texts well enough to hear words like "wash" and "seven" and "compassion". Our leprosy was being healed.

During the prayers we were instructed to turn to our neighbor and grace her with the sign of the cross on her forehead. We were to pray for resurrection in each other's lives. It was easy, but so difficult. I traced Berit's baptism on her skin and spoke words I meant, that could not be released without the teary eyes of a big sister/cousin. Oh, how I love you. And how I love this miracle of resurrection. And how I love that you are tangled up in that miracle with me because of this cross we paint on each other. These are the words I thought as I held her face and professed my prayer.

The meal was an enormous chunk of soft wheat bread that took three bites - three swallows for my body to believe in Jesus' body - his promise and presence for me. The sending hymn had us all in the aisle, singing and clapping and holding hands with brothers and sisters. A miracle indeed.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Fresh Air

There are certain times during the day I avoid the grocery store because it is crowded and crabby, but Wednesday night was not one of them. There were so few of us that we actually saw each other. I watched a teenage boy hoist a gallon of milk into an old woman's cart for her. A grubby man in fingerless gloves smelled the oranges carefully, one by one, undisturbed by other shoppers.

Something about my faith permeates these moments. I watched those tempted by the bakery decided whether they needed late night donut and wondered about the woman buying more cat food than human food.

When I have time, I like to get in the longest check out line and read the latest tabloid magazine while I wait. I glossed over photos of Chris Brown and Rihanna, heroic Capt. Sully, and the new mom of octuplets. When it was time to load my groceries onto the belt, I noticed the drama unfolding in front of me. A toothless woman in a blaze orange hoodie was near tears, trying to explain the injustice in her life to the cashier and was making frantic gestures toward the bag boy. I had to drive four hours down here and they want to know about insurance but you you don't think about insurance when you find out your son has colon cancer and I don't know what I'll do because I can't even afford the stuff I'm buying here and my food stamps are all gone...

While every bone in my body wanted to hug and hold the woman to keep her from flailing and justifying her suffering, I held back and watched how others stepped forward. The cashier made wise, deescalating comments. The woman in line between us rubbed her back gently. The bag boy filled her cart quickly and efficiently.

Even after receiving her receipt and becoming somewhat obsolete, she stayed, desperate for someone to really hear her. She moved close to the bag boy, who did not have the mental and social skills to deal with her intensity and looked like he might break down with her...or at her. I watched his anxious eyes, deciding whether he should stay and bag as his job requires, or find the safe space his parents and teachers have probably taught him to seek.

Why don't you take a breather outside while we bag our groceries? I'll find you out there when I'm done and we're all gone. Then you can come back and have a fresh start and room to do a great job.

So a stranger and I bagged each other's groceries while nodding at the broken woman and asking about her son. We stood there sorting cans between our carts until she could breathe again. My comrade drove her cart with one hand and continued to rub the woman's back as she guided her out to the parking lot. I found the boy leaning against a strong column rubbing his eyes.

We stood in the fresh air for a moment, watching the dirty snow on the sidewalk and listening to buses pull away from their stops. I'll go back now, he said. And he did. I waited there a moment, listening to the automatic doors open for the boy and looking for the blaze of orange in the parking lot. A breath of fresh air and then diaspora.

I drove home thinking, Lady, I know we have trouble seeing you and hearing you the way you want to be known. But someone does it perfectly and constantly. There is one who feels what you feel when you are driving four hours, when you are buying cans of beans, when you are scattered from the people you just found the strength to tell.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sustain Us

I've been wading through the first few chapters of Mark a lot lately. This year, most of our gospel readings come from this author and our Wednesday night bible study is also living in his account's urgent secrecy.

Each gospel author finds a unique way to move from Jesus' baptism into the wonder and danger of his ministry. Mark tells us that Jesus commissions the disciples and sends them out with the power to heal. Lest we believe these miracles are received with pure jubilation and awe, he then tells about the beheading of John the Baptist. This Word is not for the faint of heart. There will be consequences and the fear ripples through crowds.

But Mark doesn't leave us in the fear. In fact, he doesn't leave us anywhere for very long. We don't have time to digest the gruesome news before Jesus is with the disciples in a deserted place, surrounded by the curious and the faithful. They have followed out to this field and wait, like sheep without a shepherd.

The disciples are concerned that they'll grow hungry and suggests they be shooed away to get food in the nearest town. Instead, Jesus surveys the pasture filled with hundreds of people who do no know what they hunger for. He sees a pasture filled with proof - he needed to come for this very reason. He can feed them.

The bread and fish are nothing fancy. Jesus does not use them with the intent to stuff everyone silly. But with grace and gratitude, he looks to heaven and breaks it, offering enough for all. And as they take and eat, each person becomes part of something great and bigger than his and her own story. Sanctified.

This week, the Feeding of the Five Thousand reminds me of this view in rural Iceland. The pasture was expansive and standing by the waterfall had me looking around with gratitude. This place was formed by a god who knows what we need and finds subversive ways to feed us. In that moment, it was a deserted place and the mist of rushing water on my face. It was the bright sun of a long summer day and the satisfaction of a granola bar squished in my backpack.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ruby Gets a Bath

My car used to be red. Then January came with her snow and whipping wind. She sent temperatures diving and no one washed their cars, wore much make up or bothered to brush their hair. Or maybe that was just me. Deep cold is one of the reasons Minnesotans live according to the motto: Low expectations are always exceeded. In the moments of frigid tundra, we abandon style and grace for an extra blanket on the bed.

Today is somewhat mild. I did not line my jacket with layers of fleece and down. I left the socks that boast of scientific advantages in my drawer. Here in the hustle I realize that I've let things slide in January! I began with a car wash. The basic Blue Wash was $2.99 and, in this economy, it sounded free. I pulled my muddy, salty self into the wash and waited for the hurricane of brushes to bounce over me, releasing the scent of Clean Car and Winter Joy.

The CD changed and a new song came on, beating with the bath and singing, "All we can do is keep breathing". So I breathed, smelling the car soap wash away cold streets and lazy commutes. When the door came up and I was asked to pull forward, it became clear that a $2.99 wash doesn't include fans or that mysterious wax cycle. But Ruby was red again and she pulled out into the road dripping playfully.

Winter is far from over, but the smallest things can make it seem new and palatable. The fresh crunch of snow can send you looking for skis and a chilly house can entice to you search for your favorite sweatshirt that must be hiding in a box somewhere. All we can do is keep breathing, and pray that these little pleasures are not overlooked.

Monday, January 19, 2009


I still live a few miles from Luther Seminary, but last week was an exciting homecoming. The Mid-Winter Convocation welcomed Walter Brueggemann, Terry Fretheim and a sold out crowd for three days of lectures and workshops. Many of my classmates were back in town from first call and we welcomed the opportunity to share stories and catch up.

Some serve in small towns and live in a parsonage near the church. Others are far from home and learning about new cultures and what it means to be a solo pastor. Seminary doesn't teach us much about business, balancing the books, or what to do when a member of your congregation calls you with her kitchen plumbing problems. People shared their embarrassments and victories.

It was good to hear these stories.

The keynote speakers captivated the crowd by bringing to life stories about Noah and the flood, Exodus and Pharaoh, Daniel and his stubborn identity. I could hear the revelation in the large sanctuary as we heard each of these stories with new ears and new authority for today's struggles.

Whether I know it or not, I wander into scripture with open wounds. Each time I hear these stories, they react with the aches and pains I face in daily life - friends unemployed, a national recession, general apathy, and the pressure that rides on hope and tomorrow. I carried these things into Mid-Winter Convocation and felt vulnerable as the presenters showed me the surprisingly relevant ways God's ancient stories live today. It felt good - like the truth you've always known but is suddenly and wonderfully tangible.

The flood has a word to say about God's covenant with us and the deeply emotional way God chooses to be with us in disaster and suffering. The exodus has a word to say to workaholics and our modern definitions for success, achievement and freedom. Daniel has a word to say about our baptismal identity that cannot be bullied away or ignored.

It was good to hear these stories, too.

Now, in the days since convocation, the stories have blurred and blended. First call, new adventures, laughter and hugs were balm for open wounds, just as the Living Word provided relief from my cultural leprosy. The burdens I'd been carrying got tangled up with the good news and I was sent home with renewed energy and hope.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Drinking and Dancing

I was looking forward to this visit because she was a pastor and has a great spiritual curiosity I expected to keep us entertained. I unwrapped my layers and curled up in a dining room chair while she put the water on and eagerly shared about the tea we would drink. "We'll use wine glasses so we can watch them unfold." Our flowers were each unique and spilled out into the water like a beautiful lilly pad or a lagoon's secret corner. We wrapped our hands around the glass for warmth and talked all afternoon. The simple scent was healing.

A few days later, Matt and I went to my goddaughter's house for dinner. The little blond had energy to burn and danced wildly to her cd while we (shamelessly) laughed. Three year olds have trouble distinguishing between laughing with you and laughing at you when they're having too much fun to care. Don't we all? While most of her moves consisted of small, circular jogs, her hips moved every once in awhile. Her arms flailed and she through in a somersaults for good measure. Her body moved with a carefree energy that exists before we learn to be self-conscious and I envied her silly liberty.

One of THOSE weeks followed these sacred events. Every project took longer than expected and I always seemed to be sitting in traffic. There weren't enough hours in each day and I longed for my cozy bed each night, exhausted. When the stress of the day or the winter muck on my shoes had me discouraged, my thoughts went to these memories of drinking and dancing, good tea and wild moves. Two little gracelits were enough to get me through dozens of bad moods. More proof that there is strength in the good.

Monday, January 5, 2009

To Be Fed

Sundays can be busy. For a few brief hours, I try to touch base with hundreds of people with countless stories to share. During worship I'm in liturgical conversation with people, passing grace and mercy around the sanctuary like a giant beach ball from pew to pew. I get to tell people the plain truth - that , though our lives can be messy, our sins are forgiven and that this bread and wine is the body and blood of Christ given for you.

After worship I do a quick "costume change" and then bounce from table to table in fellowship hall. One group needs several copies of a list I've made for their informal meeting. Another needs a picture taken for an upcoming event. I hustle upstairs to open Sunday School with a tidbit and prayer. I come back to find my coffee cup and a few minutes to seek out visitors, to thank those who helped with worship and to hug those who need to know they're not alone.

Yesterday I watched the building slow down and gathered my things before heading to the home of a parishioner. It was time for a simple visit, an opportunity to share the love and hope I'd received all morning with a couple unable to come to worship for months. Bringing church to those at home is one of my favorite things about my job.

Their tiny dog hounded me and guarded against me until I took my coat off and sat down. This was the first time I'd dressed in my collar at their home and we laughed that once the little guy saw my "clergy badge", he calmed down and hopped into my lap. A pious pooch.

We talked about anything and everything. I unpacked communion and watched the way it made them both vulnerable and brave. Their faith was palpable and serious while I spoke words of Christ's truth. It had been awhile. And then it was back to the small talk and friendly chatter. Before I left, they gave me a bag filled with coupons to bring to the church and a sack of unwashed potatoes to bring home.

They had been fed by Christ and these dirty spuds were a way to feed and thank me for a mid-winter visit. My pleasure.