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Showing posts from 2009

R 'n' R

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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 god…

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&#…

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

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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 a…

Cleaning for Company

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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.

Merry as a Wedding Bell

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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 DoorCounty 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 sa…

Everyone has a Stewardship Story

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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 …

Heartbreaking and Hopeful

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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 d…

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 get…

Chesed-filled

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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 disco…

I hold you in my heart.

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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 …

Good Memories, Better Dreams

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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…

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 Monday…

(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 silen…

Finally. The Rising.

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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!

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…

A watched pot boils all day.

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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 tap…

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 waiti…

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 rec…

Groupie

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…

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 teache…

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…

The Miracle

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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…

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 i…

Sustain Us

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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 disc…

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 breathi…

Reconnecting

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 e…

Drinking and Dancing

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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 a…

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 …