Friday, February 28, 2014

Perspective: One Month

As months go, this is probably one of the most charged of my life. I began a new exercise regimen, had a powerful experience with Reiki, read several great books, and felt more like myself than I have in at least 2 years.

And somehow I managed to write something every day.

Writing is actually a tremendously demanding task. I have a fairly writing intensive job, so summoning the energy to write creatively, powerfully, and succinctly here is tough.

In order to push past my perfectionism, I didn't do any very profound writing this month in my weekly posts. (If you disagree, I appreciate your view!)

I did not comment on the proposed legislation in Arizona. I didn't write much, other than one sermon, on the Michael Dunn trial verdict and the condition of race relations in America.

I didn't do a review of Angry Conversations with God, which was an amazing read. I will get to that at some point.

Nevertheless, I did write every day. I did think it through. That, in addition to exercising every day since 3 February, is its own accomplishment.

I am proud of myself.

And I'm grateful to be here.

Friday Prayer: What Kind of Prayer Do You Need?

A silly post based on the never-ending Buzzfeed quizzes! Cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals.

A Quiz to Decide What Kind of Prayer You Need Today
Remember your answer! 
1. Which spiritual gift are you? 
Love           Joy                Peace
Patience       Kindness      Goodness
Faithfulness     Gentleness      Self-Control

2. Which Psalm are you?
23                8               121
100            119          Does anyone remember the #s?
46              150              22

3. Which color parament are you?
Purple           White                  Bare Wood
Green              Blue                     Red
Black                Gold                   You lost me at "parament"

4. Bishops are
Right out                 Prone to err like all humans                Some of my best friends
Important for order                  Practically Perfect in Every way          People in funny hats
On my prayer list                  On my bucket list                      On my hit list

5. If I could omit one book from the Bible, it would be
Leviticus          Revelation            Ezra
1 Timothy             Job                 Joshua
Hebrews              2 Peter             Genesis


Prayer of Thanksgiving! 
Whether today truly sucks or is the best day every, you could use a reminder that you're not alone and you are truly Beloved!
Dear God, thank you for the grace that surrounds me, flows through me, and makes everything possible. Shelter me as a mother hen to her chick and stir up the feeling of security and providence in my heart. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Amen.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Perspective: From Within

I recently reading the following three books (descriptions from

City of God: Faith in the Streets by Sara Miles:

On Ash Wednesday, 2012, Sara Miles and her friends left their church buildings and carried ashes to the buzzing city streets: the crowded dollar stores, beauty shops, hospital waiting rooms, street corners and fast-food joints of her neighborhood. They marked the foreheads of neighbors and strangers, sharing blessings with waitresses and drunks, believers and doubters alike. 

CITY OF GOD narrates the events of the day in vivid detail, exploring the profound implications of touching strangers with a reminder of common mortality. As the story unfolds, Sara Miles also reflects on life in her city over the last two decades, where the people of God suffer and rejoice, building community amid the grit and beauty of this urban landscape.

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by BrenĂ© Brown

Each day we face a barrage of images and messages from society and the media telling us who, what, and how we should be. We are led to believe that if we could only look perfect and lead perfect lives, we'd no longer feel inadequate. So most of us perform, please, and perfect, all the while thinking, "What if I can't keep all of these balls in the air? Why isn't everyone else working harder and living up to my expectations? What will people think if I fail or give up? When can I stop proving myself?"
In her ten guideposts, Brown engages our minds, hearts, and spirits as she explores how we can cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, "No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough," and to go to bed at night thinking, "Yes, I am sometimes afraid, but I am also brave. And, yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable, but that doesn't change the truth that I am worthy of love and belonging."

One Sunday afternoon, as she unloaded the dishwasher, Gretchen Rubin felt hit by a wave of homesickness. Homesick—why? She was standing right in her own kitchen. She felt homesick, she realized, with love for home itself. “Of all the elements of a happy life,” she thought, “my home is the most important.” In a flash, she decided to undertake a new happiness project, and this time, to focus on home.

And what did she want from her home? A place that calmed her, and energized her. A place that, by making her feel safe, would free her to take risks. Also, while Rubin wanted to be happier at home, she wanted to appreciate how much happiness was there already.

In this order, I finished these books. I enjoyed them all, but I found myself drawn much more strongly to the first two than the last one. I devoured Sara Miles' book in a matter of hours. I had The Gifts of Imperfection on audiobook and I literally did thousands of extra steps a day to cram in more minutes of listening. Rubin's book took me about two weeks of stopping and starting. 
The Brown book and the Rubin book might seem very similar to each other. Brown has a great narrative style, even in communicating research about shame and vulnerability. Rubin has never met a quote she doesn't love to share and her writing demonstrates her desire to be perceived as intellectual. Nevertheless, I'd recommend the Brown book to a rock. I'll likely never buy my own copy of Rubin's book, even thought I'd give it 3.5/5 stars. 
When I tease out the differences in the three, I realize that it matters deeply to me that both Sara Miles and BrenĂ© Brown are presenting their stories and information from a place of faith. It happens to be a faith I share with them, but the place of faith also matters. As they express the desire for self-care, the effort to make progress, the wholeness of living boldly, they both explain directly and indirectly that such a life is possible through God. You can't reflect on your own being without being grounded in something other than yourself and without growing out beyond your own boundaries. 
Rubin's work, though very interesting to me, doesn't go anywhere. It comes from herself, her efforts, her surroundings. Even her efforts with other people, which do benefit them, are rooted in a desire for self improvement. 
Contrast this with Miles and Brown whose lives, as I read them, are gifts from God. Their efforts to appreciate the gift and to live into it with love resonate with me. The reason to care for one's self so that one can authentically care for others is, to me, a deep truth. The well of this truth is Living Water, not a stagnant reflecting pool. 
I realize this seems very harsh to Gretchen Rubin, which is not what I meant to be. I did like both her books and there are ideas she offers that I have adapted into my own life for myself and my family. Still, reading her book in close proximity to these other two just made her words sound hollow and self-referential. The locus of my identity isn't myself. It is who I am as a baptized child of God. Brown and Miles get that and it informs how they see the world around them. It's really hard to explain a 3D movie to someone who doesn't have the glasses. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


I love tulips. A congregation member brought these by for me last week. They're just softening and becoming more gorgeous. As I think about Transfiguration, I'm overcome by the depth of holy beauty that surrounds us all. It transfigures me. 

Monday, February 24, 2014


On July 11, 2007, I started this blog.

This is now my 400th post.

There have been a lot of words under the bridge since that day.

There's this post about rape in marriage that got me on local television and a mention in the national news: Yelling in My Head. That's actually my most popular post of all time.

There are many sermons posted with two reader favorites being: My Brother, Thomas and Choose This Day.

The first is actually about the intersection of faith and doubt. The second one rhymes!

There are posts that were read around the world: Is God Visible in You?

And posts that were an out-pouring of grief: Jesus Will Not Be Pimped.

I went through two long period of not posting, once after my son was born and once after my daughter was born. (Surprise.)

Through blogging, I found (and then met) the amazing RevGalBlogPals. I'm now on the board!

Through my writing here, I was published in the Abingdon Creative Preaching Annual 2014 and will be soon in the 2015 edition. I'm working on my submission for 2016!

On occasion, I've felt paralyzed by writer's block. As I have worked to post each day this month, I remember what real work it is to write. I am comforted by the words of my friend Heidi Rodrick-Schnaath: Not every sermon can be a home run. It's best to hit a solid double than to strike out swinging for the fence.

Blogging has to follow that rule (in fact, most of pastoring does). Daily, I'm just trying to get on base with the discipline of commentary, reflection, or inspiration.

If you've been a part of this work so far, thank you for sticking with it. (I see you, Ted, Diana, Martha, Heidi,  Julie, Teri, Gena, Gloria, Emmily…)

If most of our cells regenerate over the course of seven years, then I'm almost a completely different person than I was in July 2007. Most of the time it feels that way. Yet, still… I write.

Holy Parent, You are the Word of Life and Love. I have come this far by faith- by Your faithfulness to me because of Who and What You are. I dare to ask for you to continue to strengthen and inspire me. Allow me to hear your words. Do not let me fall from the Way, the Truth, or the Life. Amen. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Rock Out (Sermon)

John 8:1-36

            First off, I’m going to try not to talk as quickly as possible to say everything that I want to say. Some stuff is just going to be left on the cutting room floor. If I don’t answer your burning question about the text now, please ask me later. That’s my little PSA. Here we go…

Verses 1-8 might appear in brackets or have little footnotes in your Bible. The reason they are marked differently is because they do not appear in some of the earliest copies of John. People who were putting together the Bible found this story in some translations of this gospel, but not in others. Furthermore, the story has words and phrases in it that are not anywhere else in the gospel- making it seem like the work of a different author.

However, it was ultimately included and placed here because of the flow of the incident between Jesus, the authorities, and the woman accused of adultery and then the conversation about judgment that comes next. Incidentally, Mosaic law (the law of Moses) says the man and the woman caught in adultery are to be stoned.

In fact, the law is much harsher about the man’s actions because women are property, like livestock, crops, children, and animals. A man had a right to the safety of his property, which means another man who threatened that safety was disturbing civic order. Therefore, he had to be put to death.

That being said, when we read through this passage in its entirety, I want you to keep something in mind about the gospel according to John. In the Fourth Gospel, sin isn’t about action (done or undone), it’s about the failure to believe in Jesus. In particular, it is about the willful failure to see God in Jesus and to understand what God is doing through the Messiah who is right in front of one’s eyes.

It is easy for us, who have the whole story, to ask, “Why didn’t they believe him? Why didn’t they trust God?” It is easy for me to tell you to trust Jesus in your day-to-day life. The words are always easy, but the doing is a whole different matter.

At any point in our lives, if we are going to talk about something we should do, we must also talk about why we don’t do it. What gets in the way? People haven’t changed that much in 2000 years. We want abundant life, the kind of freedom that Jesus promises, but there are things that get in the way.

Who here likes being uncomfortable? Anybody enjoy struggling? Who looooooves new things and the uphill effort to learn how to do or use them?

Trusting in Jesus, then and now, takes courage. Courage is less a personal adjective (something you have or are) and is more something you do. What if we said, you couraged through that, instead of you showed courage.

Our shame, our fears, our dislike of vulnerability get in the way of our couraging through daily life. Most of us are embarrassed by what we don’t know about the Bible, what our devotional life is like versus what we think it should be, our hesitation to do what we’re sure everyone else does so easily. Shame.

Most of us live with real fears- fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of dying, fear of change. Fear. Very few of us sign up for new relationships, for sharing our deepest selves, for being honest, even with one another, about our struggles. Vulnerability.

The people who are encountering Jesus in this story and who fail to believe in him also have shame, fear, and vulnerability. In order to understand Jesus as God’s anointed, as the Son, as God in front of them, they would have admit to how they misunderstood some of the prophets. They would have to be honest about where they had fallen short according to the law. They would be looking God in the eye and admitting their struggles with sin. All of that stuff gets in the way of trusting Jesus.

            If sin is the failure to trust in Jesus as the Son of God, its deep roots are shame, fear, and vulnerability. Its rotten fruit is isolation, grief, anger, blame, sarcasm, mistrust, and anything else that gets in the way of our relationship with God and with one another.

            That is not God’s desire for us. Not for you. Not for me. We have to talk about these things openly and honestly because they are what gets in the way of what God does want. God wants us to be free.

            The reality of Jesus, as revealed in this gospel and through the Holy Spirit, is that by trusting his words, we are trusting God. We are trusting that God wants life for us and for all people. We are trusting that God loves us too much to want us to dwell in darkness. We are trusting that our poor choices do not define us and can be overcome. We are trusting that the way others perceive us is not a shackle to how we must act forever.

            Our shame, our fears, our vulnerability- they become the rocks we hold, the rocks we are ready to lob at others to keep them at a distance, the rocks that keep us distracted from relationship. Make fists with both hands- like you’re holding rocks. What can you do with your hands now?

            We have to let go of the things that are holding us back, so that we can move forward. In order to have our hands ready to engage, to be in relationship, to do God’s work in the world for ourselves and for others, we have to let go of the rocks of shame, fear, and vulnerability that we tend to throw at others and use to hit ourselves.

Shame, fear, and vulnerability can enslave us. We know what Jesus said about that, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” Freedom is at hand. The Spirit can help us drop what’s holding us back. We can’t do it on our own. And we don’t have to.


Much of this was inspired while reading Brene' Brown's The Gifts of Imperfection.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Psalm 3 (Seymour Revised Version)

God! So many people are against me.
So many oppose the work you are doing through me.

I hear a chorus, chanting snidely,
“God will not help you. God is not real.”

Yet you, my God, are the truth I know.
You protect me and give me life.

I call out and God answers me,
I hear God’s voice within and without.

I rest. I sleep.
I awaken, renewed by the Lord’s sustenance.

I do not fear the many people who reject me.
Who surround me.

Act now, God! Bring relief to your servant!
You turn away my enemies,
You allow pain in those who oppose you!

Liberation comes from God;
May it be true for all your people. Amen.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Friday Five: Favorites

1. Food: Sushi, especially tuna. I love the firm coolness of the fish in my mouth. Mmmm...

2. Drink: Water, followed closely by red wine.

3: Animal: Lion. I don't actually have anything with a lion on it. I have lots of sheep and butterfly things. We have pictures of Alaskan animals all over our house. In order to answer this, I thought, "What animal am I always interested in knowing more about?" Lions- I love a good lion documentary, article, picture. 

4: Color: Blue- all shades.

5: Time of Day: 10:30. That usually feels like a very productive time for me. 

Mark is my favorite gospel. 
"Thine the Amen" is (currently) my favorite hymn. 
Little Women is my favorite movie.
Frasier is my favorite television show. 

I could no more have a favorite book than I could choose a favorite organ in my body. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Teach Me

Make me to know your ways, 
Lordteach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,   
for you are the God of my salvation;   
for you I wait all day long.  Psalm 24:4-5

Holy Teacher, 

You have made me as your pupil, your student, your disciple. 

I crave knowledge of You, your words, your works, your wonders. 

I long for the answers I am afraid to acknowledge. 
I search for the truth that I hesitate to acknowledge. 

All around me, I see situations, people, parts of creation that need your attention. 

How long, O God, will they wait? 
How much must they endure? 
Is this the time of trial? For them? 

Teach me. Teach me. Teach me. 

Let me hear your voice, read your lesson plans, follow your instructions. 
I will not be your model student, but I can be a student after your model, Jesus. 

You save me. 

More than the words of eternal life, Lord, you are the life itself. 
I want to learn this, to know it, to breathe it, to live it. 

Teach me. 

I wait for you. 

Your Spirit softens me, gives me practice, coaches me. 

Teach me. 

I wait for you. 

I perceive your forgiveness and your fierce instruction through Jesus the Son. 

Teach me. 

I wait for you. 

Holy Teacher, 

You created me as a pupil, a student, a disciple. 

Teach me. 

I wait for you.

Crossposted at RevGalBlogPals

Barefoot Soul

Yesterday I saw pictures of how our feet can become misshapen in too-tight or otherwise ill-fitting shoes.

Toes crammed together, heels cramped, arches falling or, conversely, drawn up too tightly, these were not pretty pictures.

I wiggled my feet in my wide shoes and spread my toes as far apart as I could. Not a fan of the pointy-toed shoe or snug loafer, my feet still retain much of their natural spacing (according to the pictures I saw yesterday).

In my barefoot walking today, I thought about our souls, our essence, and what "shoes" attempt to domesticate them. What are the cultural trappings that try to shape us out of our God-given wideness and strength into misshapen weakness that becomes more and more painful?

The metaphor has its flaws, but also a ring of truth.

I fling out my arms and dance in my bare feet, with my bared soul delighting in the Lord. Surely the kingdom is at hand. I can feel it in my toes.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Perspective: Raising or Experience

NaBloPoMo Prompt for 2/18: What has had more influence on your life perspective: your upbringing or your experiences?

At this point in my life, my experiences have had a greater influence than my upbringing. The testing, tempering, and trial of what my parents imparted has been transmuted into something different in me. 

Still, it must be said that my upbringing has likely shaped some or many of the experiences of my life. 

My parents both went West at some point. So did I. 

My parents pursued things unexpected. So did I. 

There are many things like this in my life. 

Two years ago, I was at a preaching conference where one of the speakers was explaining the concept of Midrash- a way of filling gaps through imagination and prayer to extend a biblical story. He spoke about how Midrash would be a new concept to the congregations we serve. Additionally, we needed, as clergy, to learn to wrestle with Scripture in the deep way. "It's okay to be frustrated with God," he said. 

I turned to my friend at a break and said, "What actually frustrates me here is that I already know this. If I learned anything from my parents, it is this: faith is hard, horrible, hefty work. You will definitely limp away. But, by God, you will be blessed. 

Blessings may not always look like what you want. Or what you hope for. Limping is not fun. It is never about being happy. But there is joy unparalleled in exploring beyond the words, beyond the pat answers, beyond the Sunday morning. 

In the wrestling, in the singing, in the tears, in the silence, in the communion, in the isolation, you will hear whispered the words of eternal life. Because they do not exist anywhere else."

This was the Midrash of my parents- the perspective that I left there house with- in my head and my heart. 

There are many things they taught that I decided to unlearn and some that I forgot. But Midrash, the story of faith that is beyond words, that is my experience of God. And I only know it because my parents brought me up to recognize it. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Distributors or Roadblocks (Sermon)

John 6:35-59

Many of us have restricted diets. Jesus’ words about salt or bread bounce off us as we think about low sodium, paleo, gluten-free, heart-healthy, or the many different ways our diets are different from the diet of a first century Palestinian. However, for Jesus, his followers, and for most people around the world, bread is the stuff of life.

Separate bread in your mind from what it takes to make bread. Flour, salt, water, maybe yeast. What do you need to have those things? What’s required for flour? Wheat or some other grain. So you need stability to grow, tend, and harvest that. You need strength and maybe tools for the threshing and grinding.

Water needs to be clean. You need a well or a clean water source. You need a vessel to carry it in and a place for safe storage. Salt requires drying or discovery. You need time and space for this. It requires patience and expectation.

All of these are gifts that God gives us in Jesus- stability, growth, strength, community, safety, a body (for storage), patience, time, space. Let’s dwell on and in that understanding. The reality of bread is much, much more than the loaf in front of us. The gift of Jesus- God with us- is more than have either or physical or spiritual needs met. He is the embodiment of God’s desires and plans for you, for me, and for creation.

This is the point where my sermon derailed on Saturday night. I was thinking about God’s desires for us- the realities of being able to receive and eat the Bread of Life. Then I read the news about the conclusion to Michael Dunn’s trial for the murder of Jordan Davis. In November of 2012, Dunn asked an SUV full of teenagers at a gas station to turn down their music. When they refused and prepared to leave the station, Dunn fired at the SUV, killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis.

At the conclusion of the trial yesterday, Dunn was convicted of several counts of attempted murder with regard to the other teens in the car. The jury ended up hung on the murder conviction for Jordan Davis. Do you think it matters in this case that Dunn is white and that Davis and the other teens were black? What would have been the outcome if a black man had fired into a car full of white teens for exactly the same reasons?

We live in a society, in 2014, where not all lives have equal value. Where people’s worth is judged based on their color, their race, their religious expression, their gender expression, their sexuality, their physical or mental abilities, their age and a variety of other factors. There are people in this congregation who regularly worry about their children or grandchildren, not in the way that we all do, but because of their color or other factors. We cannot pretend this doesn’t happen. We cannot pretend it doesn’t affect us. We cannot pretend that we can’t help.

We have said things- security, growth, strength, peace, community, bodies, safety, time, space- are God’s desires for creation as evidenced in Jesus as the bread of life. I assume we mean that they are God’s desires for all people, all people. Give us this day our daily bread is prayed by millions and millions of people. The inability to have bread- spiritual or physical- is not impaired by God’s willingness to distribute it. God has already shown that willingness by sending Jesus. The ability for all people to enjoy that bread- spiritually and physically- is impaired by how other people facilitate or get in the way of God’s distribution.

It matters greatly that the Bread of life is both a physical and a spiritual experience. It’s not just spiritual because there are real, concrete things our bodies must do as followers of Christ. It’s not just physical because there we have real, concrete spiritual needs that must be addressed and fed. If we have them, all people have them.

            We cannot listen to today’s reading, Jesus explaining about all who come to him being fed, and not feel some responsibility to respond and to help others respond. We cannot, we must not, listen to the news about the Dunn verdict and not feel any responsibility to respond and to help others respond. We cannot allow the forces that oppose God and God’s desires to make us believe that this problem is isolated to Florida or doesn’t have anything to do with our faith lives.

            If anyone, anyone, anywhere, anywhere, is afraid, is persecuted, is unable to imagine a better future, is isolated, is killed, then there are realities that are getting in the way of the Bread of Life. This happens in Anchorage. Schools have unequal resources. City communities receive unequal attention. Certain populations are profiled. Young adults do not believe they have valued potential.

            This goes beyond how we pray today. Either we are action takers, on a day to day basis, through the help of the Spirit, allowing our hands, our feet, our voices, our votes, our dollars, to be a way of distributing the Bread of Life. Or we aren’t. If we aren’t, then what are we doing? And who are we doing it for?

            In Jesus’ time, this teaching was scandalous, mainly because of what he says about blood. Jews did not eat blood. It was the life force of an animal. Therefore, it was forbidden. For Jesus to give instruction to drink his blood and eat his flesh, therefore to consume his life, this was disgusting and very off-putting to many, many people who heard him.

            It’s critical for us to hear those words today, though. If we understand that Jesus is present in our neighbors, the senseless killing of people around us- both actual killing and things that keep life from flourishing- we are witnessing the blood of Jesus being spilled, without life coming from it. We are witnessing the exact opposite of God’s desire and intention.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are the fruits of the Spirit. They grow from the nurturing of the Bread of Life. God’s plan for Jesus as the Bread of Life is to help creation enjoy peace, stability, growth, strength, time, space. As people who receive that Bread, physically and spiritually, we are called to be a part of how all people receive the Bread of Life. If you come to communion today, if you are praying today, if you are giving thanks for the forgiveness of sins today, you have entered into a covenant, a contract with God, in which you have agreed to respond and to be used for God’s purposes in the world.

Knowing that, believing that, will that change what you do? Today? This week?

            Stability, growth, strength, community, safety, a body (for storage), patience, time, space- required for bread, results of the Bread of Life. Bread that is intended for all people. We are definitely partakers for ourselves. When it comes to others, others like Jordan Davis, are we distributors or are we roadblocks?


Saturday, February 15, 2014

John 6: Litany and Prayer

Lord, we are hungry for your food.
We ask you to nourish our souls.

Lord, we are hungry for your food.
We ask you to strengthen our minds.

Lord, we are hungry for your food.
We pray for courage and wisdom.

Lord, we are hungry for your food.
Our souls are restless and unsatisfied.

Lord, we are hungry for your food.
Fill us with the Bread of Life.

Gracious God, sometimes we do not understand what Jesus is saying. We sympathize with the frustration and confusion of the disciples and those around him. Open our minds to a new and deeper comprehension of his teaching. Prepare us as a field to receive the lessons Jesus sows in our hearts, that they may come to an amazing harvest for you. Amen.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Grace Acrostic: A Prayer

God of holiness and wholeness,

Realize your promises to your creation.

All souls long for you, feeling incomplete.

Console us with your Spirit.

Enough is as good as a feast in grace. Amen

Originally posted here.

Friday Five: Love!

Today at RevGalBlogPals, RevKarla encourages us to write a short list of 5 things we love. This is a Friday Five in honor of and inspired by Valentine's Day.

1. I love living in Alaska. My dad says that Alaska smells raw and unfinished. I find a sense of discovery and being discovered in so many places here- both outdoors and in some of my usual places.

2. I love sushi. Not everyone likes the texture or the taste, but the firm bite of pure, cool protein thrills me every time. There are fish I enjoy more than others, but almost all of it is delicious to me.

3. I love St. Ives Apricot Scrub. I've been using this stuff on my face since I was 13. Even when I've tried other things, my face doesn't feel clean until I've used this stuff.

4. I love e-readers. A few years ago, I would have sworn that I'd never succumb to such an abomination. However, it turns out that the ability to have multiple books at your fingertips on a trip or in bed or at the gym or in any number of places is quite handy.

5. I love Greek Gods yogurt- especially the strawberry & honey or orange & honey flavors. I mostly eat that like a dessert. That stuff is delicious.

I usually wouldn't use the word "love" for any of these things in writing, but I great enjoy all these things.

I deeply love- as in carry in my heart and commit my life to- Jesus, my husband, my kids, the congregation I serve, my siblings, my parents, my friends, and my colleagues.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

External Motivation

I recently got a Fitbit- a pretty fancy pedometer.

I got it in part because other efforts toward health and activity have not been successful. Fitbit gives me little encouragements toward daily and weekly goals (and beyond).

This morning I woke to an email congratulating me on having earned a 50 mile badge. Since starting with the Fitbit on 2/3, I've walked 50 miles while wearing it. That's essentially 5 miles a day.

On the one hand, I'm thrilled that this is working for me like nothing else ever has.

On the other hand, I feel embarrassed to need the adult version of a sticker chart to encourage me to healthy habits.

In discussing this with some others today, they mentioned that they too really thrive on little boosts of encouragement and affirmation.

Do we do enough of this in general for the people around us? I mean, genuinely affirm who they are, their efforts, and their progress?

The other thing I think about is this: what would a Fitbit for spiritual health look like?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Keeping Perspective

NaBloPoMo Prompt: What helps you keep thoughts in perspective so they don't overwhelm you?

I work on this every day. Yesterday I was having a conversation with my synod bishop and I felt my anxiety rising. 

I stopped and breathed deeply. I made sure my feet were set firmly on the floor and I spread my toes out in my shoes. I held my arms out slightly with my hands out at my sides and shook them as though I was shaking off water droplets. 

Grace in, I breathed, anxiety out. Christ in, fear out. Grace in, savior complex out. 

I announced to myself (and the bishop): "This [problem] isn't mine to save. I don't save. I'm a pastor, not a savior. This isn't mine to save."

In any situation, defining my role helps me keep perspective. 

I'm the parent. I'm the sister. I'm the wife. I'm the shopper. I'm the friend. I'm the neighbor. 

There's no time when my identity to a situation is: I'm the savior. 

Thanks be to God.

It takes a while to develop this practice and way of thinking. 
If you struggle with perspective, try thinking, drawing, writing, saying out loud: 
In this situation, I am the… 
This is what my job is…
Others may want me to…, but I am not the…
I do not save. I am the…

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Perspective: Reaping from Someone Else's Harvest

Today is the 125th anniversary of my great-grandfather’s birth. Daniel Dunlap was my paternal grandfather’s father. My dad’s grandpa. He died well before I was born, so I did not know him, but I
have heard many stories.

For the past week, my dad and some of his cousins have been sharing memories of Grandpa Dunlap. He was a remarkable individual and well-known in the community for supporting education, for being a generous neighbor, and for his ability to repair just about anything with whatever he had at hand. His wife, Norabelle, was an equally remarkable woman.

Growing up in Moore County, North Carolina, I was used to my dad and my grandfather explaining to me who was who and how they were related to us. Since my last name was Dunlap, I understood that Dunlaps were my people. When people spoke about Dunlaps, they meant me, too.

My people also included Barbers and Needhams. When I went to Scotland in 2005, I never had to spell my last name.

My mother’s people included the Moritts and the Felmans (and variations thereupon).

Now that I’m married, I represent the Seymours (and, on occasion, the Riggles).

All of these are names that came to me. What they mean, represent, stand for in communities is the work of people who came before me. They’re my people. I’m their people.

As I read the stories of Daniel Dunlap and his impact on the community around him, I think of this verse: [Jesus said:] “For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor." (John 4:37-38)

I did not work for what these names mean when people hear them, but I have benefited from that work. I have reaped a good harvest from Daniel and Norabelle and so many others.

Thus, I know that is my work to continue to sow so that my children and grandchildren and nieces and nephews will be able to enjoy the harvest. I work as a Seymour, a Dunlap, a Barber, a Moritt, a Felman.

I work as a Lutheran (ELCA), a former Southern Baptist, an Alaskan, a child of the modern South.

I sow as a graduate of Union Pines High School, Sandhills Community College, Meredith College, Yale Divinity School.

My work reflects on Father Hank Franklin, Pastor John Stone, Pastor David Helms, Dr. Sarah Lemmon, Rev. Beverly Alexander, Pastor Royall Yount, Pastor Larry Holmes, and on and on.

I did not build the name I inherited. It is by the graciousness that preceded me that I enjoy such a bountiful harvest. And I ask for the grace to continue to sow to allow for a harvest beyond me.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Perspective: New Creation

In addition to physical work to be healthier, I've been embracing some spiritual exercises that are outside of my usual "workout".

I've prayed for a vision of healing and health. In my mind, a tree- bursting with new growth- in riotous color. The picture is bright in my mind- reds and deep pinks.

I decided to try to put it on paper tonight. I used watercolor paper and oil pastels.

I didn't exactly make a tree, but can you see both the new growth and the deep root system? And, of course, you can't miss the trinity knot centering everything.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Do You Want to be Made Well?

John 5:1-18

            In the Monty Python movie Life of Brian, there is a scene in which a man solicits Brian (the main character) for money. He runs alongside Brian and says, “Alms for an old ex-leper?”

            When Brian finally understands what the man is saying, he replies, “Ex-leper?” The man explains that he had made his living, with his leprosy, by begging. Then Jesus came by and healed him, “without so much as a by-your-leave.” Now the man is begging as an ex-leper and he’s mad that Jesus robbed him of his trade.

            Brian says, “There’s just no pleasing some people.” The ex-leper replies, “That’s just what Jesus said, sir.”

            This is a very funny skit in the movie and we are able to laugh at it even out of context. The hard part to admit is the ring of truth that is lies in the dialogue. Becoming well, being healed, requires change. Not everyone is ready to embrace that kind of change.

            In today’s gospel reading, there is a man who has been ill for thirty-eight years. Given the relative life expectancy, he’s been sick for most, if not all, of his life. His parents are probably dead. His community is the other sick people around him. They wait by the pool, hoping to be the first in when the water ripples. In the man’s case, he may lack friends with the capability to get him to the pool. He may have stopped expecting to ever get there. His life has likely become begging for coins and food, receiving the prayers of well-meaning people who come to the pool, and waiting to die.

            Then Jesus comes along and asks, “Do you want to be made well?” What kind of a question is that? It’s actually an excellent question. Do you want your circumstances to change? Do you actually desire this? Are you willing to participate in a change? Are you prepared for how hard this might be?

            When people struggle with addiction, when they wrestle with illnesses that may have resulted from smoking, alcoholism, or overeating, when they experience failed relationships because of personal decisions… we have a tendency to assume that they don’t want to be well. That if they did, if they truly did, if way, way deep down, they really, really, really wanted to be well… they would do something differently. It’s not always that simple. It’s rarely that simple.

            In this story, the religious authorities see the man carrying his mat on the Sabbath. They chastise him for this. “You can’t do that on the Sabbath! It’s work!” The previously-ill man immediately passes the blame, “Hey, the guy who healed me told me to pick it up and carry it!” The authorities then go sniffing for the one who committed the more egregious Sabbath violation- a mat-carrier is a parking violation compared to the definite  8-point violation that is healing on the Sabbath!

            Why do they care so much? Aren’t they glad the man is healed? The truth is that these authorities are trying to protect their community. They are trying to preserve Jewish identity by protecting the things that make the community special and holy: circumcision, food laws, and Sabbath observance.

            The Jewish community is living under Roman rule. The Roman emperor portrays himself as a son of the gods and as a god himself. Those communities who are occupied by Rome, but desire to maintain their own identities have to cling to what makes them unique, over and against what Roman occupiers may want or expect.

            Keeping the Sabbath observance meant that Jewish people were not working, not selling to Romans or buying from them, not interacting with them and, thus, not acknowledging their power. Theorectically, then, the absence of work and the presence of worship marked the Jews as followers of the true God. Unfortunately, some of the Jewish leaders (not all leaders and NOT all Jews) became more concerned about the outward behavior than what it was supposed to represent. Rather than emphasizing the honoring God aspect, their focus because strict adherence to the rules.

            Thus, Jesus threatened their efforts to preserve the community. The change that he brought, the emphasis on belief and action in faith in God, disturbed the way that the authorities had structured the community. The change was too much. God was right in front of them… bringing in a new age of wholeness, encounter, and support for faith, but it was too much. Change is hard. Though many had prayed for the Messiah, when he wasn’t what they expected… they wanted him to go away. There’s no pleasing some people (which applies across all religions and denominations.

            Which brings us back to where we are, to our own lives, and to people we know who are struggling with all kinds of illnesses and demons. Don’t they want to be made well? Many of them do. Most of them do. More than we know. Many of us here may have similar longings in our lives. However, change is hard.
            Becoming well, being well, staying well… for many the change that is required is too difficult to maintain, if it can be conceived. It requires effort. An minute by minute process- not weekly, daily, or hourly- but a minute to minute awareness.

            Jesus tells the man not to sin again, so that nothing worse may happen to him. In the gospel according to John, sin is persisting in unbelief. It is not what you do necessarily, but sin is what you are unwilling to do… to trust in, to act on, to follow what God is revealing right in front of you. Jesus isn’t saying if the man messes up, God will smite him with illness. Jesus is pressing the man to move into the way of trust, into the life of believing, into the light that no darkness can overcome.

            Making that change will bring the man into a new relationship with God- a relationship that will come with wholeness, renewal, and community. Surely that’s worth it. We’d think so. We say so. Yet, in our hearts, we know when we haven’t wanted to change. We know making changes in ourselves, in our families, as a congregation, as a community is hard. Change means a shift in how we see those around us and ourselves. Change may mean altering some of our “rules” or ways of being and doing. Do we want change?

            This is the question that we live with- minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. The question for the larger world and for the world within ourselves. God has revealed a desire for healing, relationship, hope, and forgiveness for us and for all people. So the question is: do you, do I, do we want to be made well?