Account of Ministry

Recently I was writing an application and was asked to access my ministry to date.  I wrote about the 8 1/2 years since ordination as they wanted me to, but here’s where I really wanted to start because my journey in ministry did not start in Ordination.

My church upbringing was mixed at best.  My parents divorced when I was a small child and I spend my weekends split between them- one weekend at the Presbyterian Church, one weekend at the Roman Catholic Church.  Once my mother remarried our family attended a United Methodist church near our home. After a schism in that congregation my step-father wanted to go back to his roots and we attended a local southern Baptist congregation.

By the time we were rooted into the culture of the Baptist church I was around 9 years old. However, I remember having my first theological thought at the Methodist Church as I starred at the stained glass window of Jesus, listened to prayers directed toward Jesus, and the scriptures focused on Jesus.  I wondered where God was in all this (little did I understand).

The southern Baptist was a turn off from the beginning for me, in all honesty.  I remember a Sunday School lesson in Jr. High about becoming a “born-again virgin”, I found this topic not only impossible but also age inappropriate (these days sex in middle school would not be inappropriate, but that was a while ago). Every week I watched altar calls that either ended because parents forced their children to go forward, or people wanted service to end.

Besides their views on women, their view of God, and the fact that we all left church in a bad mood I went each week to church with my parents, until they decided to join.  My step-father had been raised in the Baptist tradition and had a “believers baptism” my mother, however, was raised Presbyterian and had an infant baptism, meaning she would have to be re-baptized.

I watched one Sunday evening my mother, dressed in a white robe, be lowered into a pool in the front of the sanctuary and dunked three times.  It should have been a beautiful moment, not that I was expecting the heavens to open, but I remembered thinking that something should have happened, we should have felt something. At that moment I knew that the promise of baptism had already been given to my mother and this was simply a step she was taking to join the church.  I was done with the church.

I stopped all attendance to church except Christmas and Easter, refused to go to Youth Group, and began pretending there was no God. I say pretending because years later I was once asked when I was “saved” or “found God”.  I explained that I could tell them stories of acceptance or moments where I felt God’s presence, but there was no moment I found God, God found me, before my birth.  God has always been there for me, even in the worst of times, full of self-hatred, starving for love, wandering lonely in the world- God was always there. I was 18 years old and had been attending The Presbyterian Church of Bowling Green, KY for less than 2 years.

When I was 16 years old my best friend asked if I would join her church choir.  The choir had 4 “section leaders” in the choir from the University and the tenor and soprano had just split up and the soprano had quit, they needed a fill-in and fast.  I agreed and attended 2 worship services every Sunday and a Wednesday Night choir rehearsal.  I had to do something between services so I started attending Sunday School, then they got me on a ski trip, then Youth Group.  It was in that place, with those youth leaders I experienced love for the first time, I experienced grace for the first time.

It was there that I learned to witness that the greatest gift I could ever give God was to be who God created me to be.  That I am worthy of love and forgiveness, that I must love myself in return.

One night, after graduating high school, I sat on a street in the middle of the night in Montreat, NC with a group of my peers and talked about what it meant to be a child of God. They asked me questions and I told stories and quoted scripture and felt a sense of peace like never before. I was called, I was to devote my life to God and the church, and my ministry was born.

I studied music in college and immediately entered Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  I loved seminary, it was a community of nurturing, caring, and encouraging people.  We shared joys and frustrations; we fought over women’s rights, racial issues, and theology.  We witnessed to each other the best and worst of humanity, the love and forgiveness of God.

My first internship was where the rubber hit the road.  I was nervous, not having been “raised” in the church I felt like there was a set of rules everyone knew and followed except for me. However, they didn’t care (well, most of them).  Since taking my first step in the pulpit my ministry has been confirmed every step of the way.

There were rules, and I naturally broke them by being myself.  I didn’t always have three points in a sermon and I hardly ever used a poem.  The word “refreshing” is used a lot when people encounter me in ministry settings. My ministry began at the moment of my birth, my very existence, with each breath, a witness to our living creator.

Advertisements

I Wish to See Jesus

I wish I could see Jesus.  Just for a moment.  To be surrounded by so much love and warmth, to be held in the embrace that knows all.

A word would not need to be said between us, it has already been done.

Just a moment, a look, a glance… anything to feel whole again.

ImageI’ve felt so tired, so broken, so inept lately. Or so it seems, I go one way and others are another. Which is the way of God?  It seems there’s little difference between divine and demon. Am I being overly sensitive? Am I taking on too much? If so, how? Why? and Sweet Jesus make it STOP!

I think I need a vacation from my brain and into my soul.  For a moment I want a glimpse of Jesus so I can feel something besides the ache of anxiety and the “right” way of doing things.  I cannot make everyone happy, I am human and I mess up, I am sorry.  I cannot get everyone to like me and I really am sorry if something I need or said or didn’t do or say hurt you.

But Jesus can.

Jesus can make it all better with one look, one glance, one moment. I need a moment like that today.

Exhaling

Today is my 6th month anniversary at Ashland.  I cannot believe it’s been 6 months.  And I cannot believe it’s ONLY been 6 months.  I have enjoyed everyday I have been here.  I am thankful everyday for the staff and creativity that surrounds this place.  I am thankful for the opportunity to minister in a place I am so deeply called.

At the same time I admit that I have been holding my breath for the last 6 months.  Partially waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop, but partially because accepting a new call is always a leap of faith.  While interviewing I tried to present myself authentically, showing them I was human, but you know… not “too” human.  It is the nature of the call process in the Presbyterian Church that Pastoral Nominating Committees have to remain secret.  And on the side of the pastor, there is simply only so much they can see, we are both taking a leap of faith that we are both being honest.

How do we do that? We rely on the Spirit, it is the only way.

So today is the same as any other day, but I am willing to exhale… a little.  We are still honeymooning, I know we are still getting to know each other, but I am so thankful, everyday to be here and in this place.

Christ has no presence but yours

While I was on vacation I spent the sabbath day not in church (bad, I know) but on the beach with my family.  And while I was feeling guilty (okay…only just a little) I started looking around to this very, very busy beach and all the families with small children.  These families on vacation whose parents are wearing crosses.

Now I don’t wear Christian themed jewelry, it’s just not my thing.  I wear a wooden cross with my Easter Robe, it’s black cross with a white dove descending, “freeing” death from the cross, and I love the theological implications of it. There’s nothing wrong with wearing crosses, go for it.  I have a few personal objections, which do not apply to anyone else.  One, I don’t like the idea of anyone making a significant amount of money off of the symbol of my ultimate salvation and redemption, especially when I see diamond encrusted crosses.  It reminds me of that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where the Nazi picks the gold chalice and says, “this is the cup of a King” and then Indie picks the plain pottery one and says, “this is the cup of a carpenter.” Besides my theological cross I don’t wear wooden ones over gold ones, I just choose not to wear one.

Second, and this is where I have gotten strange looks, so let me stress, this is how I feel about it for myself, not for you… I don’t like wearing a symbol of capital punishment.  YES, my theology doesn’t see it that way.  I know it is no longer a way of capital punishment and that after Jesus’ raising from the dead, that an empty cross is a sign of hope and redemption.  Yes, I believe that.  But I cannot help but look at an empty cross and feel the sorrow of the moment when Jesus was taken off the cross.  This was driven home for me when I worked at Beulah Presbyterian Church and we would process in every Sunday morning.  The balcony of the church hung low and there was a 10-12 foot cross in the front, that when you stood in the back of the church and walked forward you could not see the cross until you were clear of the balcony.  Each Sunday I would watch that life-size cross slowly revealed as we walked forward.  Each week as it came into full view I would think “THIS is where Jesus would have run screaming.”But once upon a time in a land called Jerusalem, he did not run screaming.  I make the excuse that if Jesus would have been killed today we would be wearing injection needles or electric chairs around out necks. It’s a weak argument, maybe when you get down to it, I don’t wear a cross because I don’t feel worthy of the symbol, or maybe it really is just as simple as I chose not to.

Either way, I noticed a lot of crosses Sunday morning at the beach.  Then yesterday I was returning from church and stopped into an open house of this new community near our house.  I was really just curious what they looked like.  It was obviously advertized around that the open house was from 11am-3pm.  I usually come home from church around 4 on Sundays, it was 2:50 and so I seized the opportunity.  And here is the real estate agent wearing a (might I say, large and a little obnoxious, although not as obnoxious as this picture) cross around his neck.  Okay, I admit it, I judged…

Not he could have gone to church that morning, or last night, or later that night.  OR maybe he goes every Sunday but that one.  Maybe those families on the beach with crosses around their neck go to church every Sunday, and who am I to judge? I wasn’t in church, I was on the beach with my family too.  And I wasn’t even witnessing to my faith through a cross necklace or tatoo.

And here in lies my problem (this is where you think, “what was the point of that story?”) How do I witness to my faith? How do I witness for my church, how do I witness for my God? Is it through jewelry? And if so is wearing simply enough.  Is my bumper sticker enough? Is asking people to pray for a friend on Facebook enough? And for those of us who don’t wear a symbol of our faith, or put a bumper sticker on my car- how do we work it into conversations. I mean don’t we want others to have this much love and passion in their lives? Don’t we want others to experience the hope and freedom as we do? I’m not talking about forcing and holding up signs on street corners. But if you do I beg that they be messages of love and not hate.

Then today I read a blog post based on Teresa of Avila’s prayer:

Christ Has No Body

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

But this blog updated it for today.  Christ has no Facebook but yours, no Twitter, no online presence but yours.  It’s genius, in my humble opinion, and I agree wholeheartedly.  But I also wonder, if our online presence is our only witness, or our cross jewelry our only presence of Christ in the world then I don’t believe we are fulfilling the Great Commission. So how then? How do we witness to our faith, a liberating, exciting, love-filled faith? How do we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God in a real, life giving, way? When we will move beyond loving and witnessing about our churches only when we’re inside them, or only to each other? When will we find our way to reaching out beyond our walls, beyond our jewelry, beyond our computers? When will we connect with each other and share the good news where our whole lives reflect our faith?

Sermon 04 29 2012

For those that missed it, here is my sermon from April 29, 2012. Although this sermon is not exactly what I preached (we must leave room for the spirit) this is what was written for me to say… It has all the elements.

Luke 24:36b-48

About 18 months ago there was a tragic accident in my church in Albany.  Lou, the patriarch of the church, 89 years old and in great health for his age, walked across the street to his car on a rainy September evening and was struck by a car.  They never saw each other. Not even close.

The next day I am driving to the family’s house and dropping the kids off at a nearby parishioner.  When my, then almost three year old daughter says to me “Mommy, why are you sad?”

Now I try to be open to my children about the realities of life and death, but how to do that is delicate, I do not want to scare them, but I do want them to understand.

I want to be honest because sadness is a real emotion and there is no reason for her to think that it is about her, or to pretend that I am not sad because I am, obviously, very sad.

“Well honey, something bad has happened to Mr. Lou.” “Mr. Lou our church friend?” “Yes, baby, he crossed the street without looking”

Now to an almost three year old crossing the street without looking is just about the sin of all sins.

“Oh,” she says “he’s in BIG trouble” I laugh through my tears “Yes, honey, he is in big trouble.”

Explaining death to a child is just about the most complicated thing I can imagine.  It brings up so many questions… Where do we go when we die? Will grandma still have cancer in heaven? How will I recognize the ones that I love? Will they have the same body? And if so, what will that body look like?

My favorite answer to that last one came from an eighty something year old woman who told me that she believed that when she arrived in heaven she would look like she did on her most perfect day in life.

The day where everything fell in to place, her hair was just so and her makeup just right, and where she felt the most confident about herself.

It is a comfort to us, when we are grief stricken, that when we arrive in heaven we will see those whom we loved most dear to us.  And it is a comfort that although different, we will recognize them by body and in spirit.

In our scripture lesson this morning we meet the disciples again, this time in Luke, huddled together in their fear, frustration, guilt, grief and suspicion. Their leader, their beloved, is dead and now his wounded body is missing. In the midst of their escalating alarm, out of nowhere, Jesus himself appears.

And again, just as in John, the first thing Jesus does is provide comfort and assurance.  “Peace be with you” Jesus says.  And immediately follows it up with “Why are you freaking out?” As then he does something really odd, something very strange, but something he has done so many times in the Gospel of Luke, he asks for something to eat.

These words, this scripture, this moment assures the disciples, this is the same old Jesus- different now but yet the same- once dead but now alive- caring but still fussing.  Jesus is acting as if nothing happened, he seemed normal, natural, just what they had come to expect.

Yet he still carries the marks of his brutal death. And the very fact that he shows up after his cry of abandonment is anything but normal or expected. Earthly, human power had triumphed over him, it has seemed. The high priest, the scribes, the governor, soldiers, and the innocent bystanders had all condemned Jesus as a scoundrel and blasphemer.

Even God seemed to have condemned the verdict. There were no rescuing angles, no last minute acquittal, no surprise witnesses to change the verdict. According to the law he got what he deserved and this should be the end of the story.

But we are surprised- for God and Jesus are in cahoots against the powers of the world. By raising Jesus from the dead, God declared to the political leaders, “This is not about you!”

While they thought they had the upper hand and exercised all power that mattered, God declared that God has been working behind the scenes the whole time.

Today’s text brings the work and ministry of Christ full circle. Luke tells us at the beginning of his Gospel that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption for all of creation. God transformed a tragic consequence into a new thing- an acquittal and ultimate redemption. The ugliness of crucifixion gave way to the power of resurrection.

As we think the story over, we see God had something to say. It has always been about God and continues to be so.  Jesus did not launch into explanations about the mechanics of the resurrection, nor did he provide an itinerary about his whereabouts since Friday…

Instead, Jesus did what Jesus does best: he taught and commissioned: his whole life, death, and rising were about what God is doing in the world- reconciling the world back into the arms of God.

From the law of Moses, to the prophets, to the Psalms, it has always been about God and God’s purposes, aims, and agenda for us- it has always been about repentance that leads to forgiveness of sins and creating God’s shalom- peace, wholeness, restoring the world.

And that restoration is not far and it did not die with Jesus, because he was raised, here, in front of them, eating fish of all things! One of the greatest moments in Luke’s resurrection stories is this moment of Jesus eating fish.  This resurrection, this body- it lives.

It not only lives, it is real and tangible.  You can touch it, he can smell and taste, he can feel things like hunger and hear the disciple’s cries.

The risen Christ appears to groups and couples to assure them that he lives; to teach them to put their fear and doubts in the context of God’s grand plan; to open their understandings of the scriptures. To commission them as witnesses of all that God has done and is doing in the world.

Jesus makes it abundantly clear to his disciples and commissions them to put their fears and doubts in the context of God’s grand plan, so they may be able to witness of all that God has done and is doing for the world.

They are now ready to witness in Jerusalem, and to all the nations because of what they have seen and what they now know.

The work of Christ begins and continues because we are the witnesses and bearers of the promises of resurrection!

Today we live in a world where fear and doubt overwhelm us.  And we ask: where is God? Because the powers of the world- war, poverty, disease- seem to have won.  Today we are looking for that reassurance, that God is not powerless to the evils of this world.[i]

Yet here we are, witnesses to the resurrection, bearers of the gracious mercy of God. And we too have been commissioned to spread the good news of the gospel, to live the good news.  But the real questions becomes how will we do this?

What in our communities needs the presence of the risen Christ? What kinds of experiences or understandings so we need so that we can be credible witnesses to God’s reconciliation in the world?

What is our communal response to God’s presence and work in the world? How do we participate in God’s work on earth?

Although I do love that woman’s answer about what she will look like in heaven, I think I would change it a bit.  I pray that in heaven I will look like I did on my best day.  But not about hair and makeup, but the day I was the most kind, the most generous, the most forgiving.

I pray that when I arrive in heaven there will be all those whom I love being the best and most authentic selves, the people God called them to be on earth.

So why not start today?

Answering questions about death is hard, answer the questions about how we will bear witness to the resurrection may be harder still, but that doesn’t mean we don’t give it our best shot to answer them.

Years ago, Winston Churchill planned his own funeral. And he did so with the hope of the resurrection and eternal life which he firmly believed in.

And he instructed after the benediction that a bugler positioned high in the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral would play Taps, the universal signal that says the day is over.

But then came a very dramatic moment as Churchill had instructed. Another bugler was placed on the other side of the massive dome, and he played the notes of Reveille (I can’t get em up), the universal signal that a new day has dawned and it is time to arise.

That was Churchill’s testimony that at the end of history, the last note will not be Taps, it’ll be Reveille. There is hope beyond the grave because Jesus Christ has opened the door to heaven for us by his death and resurrection.[ii]

Jesus commissions us to declare the presence and power of God in the midst of tragedy, despair and death.  They are not ultimate- God is. And the risen Christ makes himself known to us in ways big and small.  So as people of faith we are to be witnesses to Christ’s people among us, in our words and in our deeds.

May this be so for you… Amen.

[i] This section from Feasting on the Word, Year B, vol. 2, Luke 24:36b-48

[ii] 750 Engaging Illistrations for Preachers, Teachers, and Writers from Craig Brian Larson and Leadership Journal #127

Please Pray

I have dedicated my life to prayer and ministry but there are rare moments where the two fall into my lap. But this is not a story about me. This is a story about a man named Andre.

Tonight I was leaving a meeting (a meeting I almost didn’t go to because traffic made me 15 minutes late) about homelessness in Baltimore County. It was at the Catholic church in Cockeysville and I stayed a little after with some folks from my church to talk about a soup kitchen project we are thinking of starting and some other ideas with the presenters. Then, we left out the wrong door.

I had parked in the front, so had the two parishioners I had walked out with but none of us knew this as we talked in the back parking lot. Just as we were leaving a man named Andre walked up. Andre is about 6’7″ and said that the church people had told him there was a boy scout meeting going on. I looked at the building there was a light on upstairs. “Maybe, but I don’t know anything about it”

“Oh,” he said, “I was just looking for somebody to pray with me.”

“Well I’ll pray with you, what’s going on?”

Andre then told us that he had recently lost both his parents and he moved up here with his 4 boys and were living with a friend. They could stay as long as he had a job. Tonight he was out of money and wouldn’t be able to get to work and would therefore be fired. So he left the house, hoping for something, anything. He walked to a church near where he was staying and knocked on the door. He heard voices inside and knocked louder. When a woman came to the door he asked if there was someone who could pray with him. She said no and told him to get off the church property.

Not knowing what to do now, desperate and alone, Andre started walking to the train tracks. He figured someone would take care of his boys if he were gone. He figured someone, anyone could do it better than him, so he was walking to the train tracks to kill himself. On the way, he say the Catholic Church we were having our meeting in and when he knocked on the church doors someone told him there was a meeting across the street in the Parish Hall.

The three of us prayed with Andre, we prayed that he stay safe, feel hope, for his boys and that for God’s sake he get some help. We pooled together our money (well my parishioners did, because I didn’t have any cash) it was all of $32. But it was enough to get him a bus pass for the week. One of my parishioners also gave him some additional information to get some help that was literally next door, a project the local churches support (http://ucanmd.org/)

I left Andre in the care of my two parishioners who were taking him to the Light Rail station to get him to work. But I’m worried, I’m afraid for Andre. I’m afraid it wasn’t enough, that he will give up anyway. So please, right now, please pray for Andre, pray that he is safe tonight, that he finds a way, that he lives to receive the help that is out there for him.

Empathy and the Nursing Home

In my freshman year of college I was a student at the University of Memphis in Memphis, TN.  There was no religion major and almost all the Christian based groups on campus were baptist (the ones that weren’t were still very conservative).  There was however a small religion department made up of two Jewish Professors and a secretary.  Needless to say, I spent all my free time in their offices.

An opportunity like no other arose that year to take a class and for 10days over spring break travel to Israel.  So I signed up, somehow found $7,000 dollars and packed my bags.  We landed in what felt like middle of the night in Tel Aviv.  That night two other girls and I sneaked out of the hotel and walked along the Mediterranean Sea.  We took of our shoes, ran our hands across the pebbles and as the cool water of the Mediterranean hit my feet I knew there was something holy to this place.  That feeling continued until I got on a plane a week later. To this day when I close my eyes and think about it, the memory and the feeling remains strong.

The Holy Land is not the only place to have ever had this effect on me, when I left Memphis and people would ask me how I liked it there, I would say, “It was nice to live in a city with soul”. I have experienced that in other places too- New Orleans, New York City, rural Kentucky, the mountains of North Carolina.  They each have a different story and a different experience, but there is something about certain places.

Since my first experience with feeling life from a place, rather than a person, I have grown to cultivate my sensitivity to it.  Yes, what I feel from a place absolutely has to do with what is going on in my life, but it also has to do with what is going on in that place, its history and its present people. Ultimately, it comes down to empathy.  I am very sensitive to what is going on around me, it is part of my personality.  I am intuitive and empathetic to a fault. I believe in what Carl Jung wrote of the collective unconscious and know that we are all linked by a common creator.  What lives in me, though different, lives in you too and we are the same.

Which brings me to today.  Today was my monthly visits to the nursing home. Thankfully I only have two in nursing homes at the moment and they are not only in the same home, but, in my opinion, the nicest in town.  I used to think that I didn’t like nursing homes because of the smell and starkness of the halls and rooms.  But this place has no strong “nursing home smell” and the decor is actually quite lovely.  The staff is friendly and helpful, but I still cry in my car every time I leave.

Yes, I was there to visit parishioners whom I love and have cared for these last 6 years, but the crying is not about them, the overwhelming sadness comes from this place.  There are smiles in the halls along with cried for help, but I have come to believe it is the place that holds the sadness.  Maybe I’m crazy, but the place is full on hope that has died, a place of limbo, a purgatory on earth is you will.  There is still life in the people, but the hope is no longer there.  So I admit I leave each time feeling defeated.  I blame it on empathy, sometimes I wish it would go away, but mostly I am thankful for the experience. I know that a piece of these places lives in me and because of that, can be transformed into hope.  After that is, it is released through tears in my car…