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.