This week I was full.

I don’t mean my time, though that is certainly true. I mean my cup was overflowing with grace, with love, with companions on a journey, and with new understanding.

 My companions and I gathered for three days to worship, to share stories and experiences, and to learn. We sang, laughed, prayed, danced, and shared together the joys and frustrations that fill pastors’ days. We dropped pretenses of being something that we aren’t and lived into our calling as beloved children of God. It was a time of showing grace to one another and to ourselves and a time of love poured out from God through each of us toward one another.

 We were filled.

 My new understandings were many, but the one that prompts me to write this was a worship service with very ordinary bread and wine still in their bags from the store. We were reminded that those very elements are the beauty of Christ. And somehow, in those everyday elements, I remembered what it means to be served. In remembering how to be served, I remembered what it is to serve. I re-re-remembered that serving is less about words and more about reaching inside yourself and pulling out the love and grace you find there and offering it to the ones you love and the ones you don’t. It is about everyday normal boringness becoming extraordinary by the presence of Christ. It is (re) learning that by giving away the very heart of who you are, you receive more than you give. And it is wondering if the gift of Christ emptying himself somehow filled him up as well.

 This week I was filled and I remembered that by giving away my fullness, I will be filled again and again.

I share my holy moment with you as a way of giving it away. Not because I expect something in return (though I know that will come) but because I am full.

Thanks be to God.

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May 12, 2014 · 1:49 am

Star word – Enjoyment

            My star word for 2014 is enjoyment.  As I approach many new tasks and learn new routines and ways of balancing life, enjoyment is a good word for me to hold close.

            It is easy to enjoy life when there are no demands placed on my time.  It is also easy to enjoy life when there are a manageable number of demands placed on my time.  However, as a new pastor (or for that matter, an experienced one), life isn’t always going to feel manageable.  My friends Lucus and Joanna have tried to tell me that it is possible to learn to enjoy chaos.  Now I have a word to pray with that may help me do just that.

            I spent the last three days on a retreat with other new pastors and one of the things we focused on was being mindful.  At one point I was given a piece of chocolate and asked to eat it mindfully.  I slowly enjoyed the flavor, the texture, the smell, and the silence and I remembered that there is more to life than completing tasks.  It is easier to enjoy a small piece of chocolate when I focus on what I am doing.  I hope it will be easier to enjoy things I would rather not do when I focus on them as well.

            I wonder about Jesus.  Did he enjoy his life and his work?  I choose to think so because his life was about the journey, not just a moment at the end of his life.  But how hard must it have been to avoid traps set by the authorities, constantly be surrounded by people, always having more people who were sick or hungry seeking something from you.  How frustrating it must have been to teach and not be understood.  And yet my favorite artistic rendering of Jesus is one where he is laughing with a sparkle in his eye, his head thrown back, and his mouth wide open.  That, to me, is how Jesus would have approached life, because life is worth living, and moments are worth enjoying.

            Enjoyment.  What a great word!

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Christmas Eve 2013

         I received an email today from a friend who wanted to wish me a Merry Christmas.  It was like any other greeting from any other friend until I went to respond and remembered that this friend wouldn’t be attending worship on this night because her health wouldn’t allow it.  In fact, this friend may very well be celebrating her last Christmas on this earth.  So as I began to write Merry Christmas back to her it required some thought on my part.  How could I say Merry Christmas knowing all that about her?

            Then I remembered that Christmas is about the stories of our lives intersecting the narrative that we tell and retell.  The story is of God taking on flesh and living like us, feeling pain, suffering, and frustration.  The story reminds us that we are never alone in our stories because God has been here and God is here now.  Crafting my response to this friend gave me goose bumps (God-bumps is what another friend of mine calls them) as I re-remembered what the incarnation means.

 

            This interaction completely changed the message I would deliver in worship this evening, and though I wanted to share this story I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do so without tearing up. (Then I remembered that if I cried it wouldn’t really matter.)

 

            Now, fast forward past a wonderful worship service to my email inbox and another email from this friend.  She wanted me to know that she was praying for me and for the worship I’d be leading this evening.  She wished that everyone would experience God in a way that gave them God-bumps.  I must’ve told her that story once but I don’t remember.  Now, here I am feeling the Spirit move in ways that gives me bumps on top of bumps.

 

            God is here.  God is now.  Hope is being born in us again this night as we participate in this story of birth, rebirth, new birth, and unimaginable grace.

 

            Merry Christmas.  May you be filled with the unmistakable presence of Christ.

 

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Integrity

in·teg·ri·ty

noun

 

1. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.

 

2. the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished: to preserve the integrity of the empire.

 

3. a sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition: the integrity of a ship’s hull.

 

 

 

            Almost one year ago, at Epiphany, a friend of mine gave me a “star” word.  The idea was to take that word and reflect on it, pray with it, and live with it for a time.  She also invited me to blog about my experience with the word.  It was a great idea until . . . well, until my word was integrity. Blech! I persevered, though silently and without a blog entry in sight, for the majority of 2013.  I agreed, and even asked to participate in this star word experiment so how, when given the word integrity, could I not do what I said I would do?

 

            Initially I thought this particular word would be boring.  I value my own integrity, strive like crazy to always keep my word, and feel like my moral code is a guiding force in my life.  Then I began interviewing with pastor nominating committees. The funny thing about interviews is that often everyone is trying to put only their best foot forward.  The question, “What are your weaknesses?” or a variation of that always gets asked as a way to find a little bit of humanity in an unending stream of wonderfulness.  As I found myself interviewing and meditating on the word integrity I vowed that in order to proceed with integrity I needed to be as honest as I could about my strengths AND weaknesses. 

 

            As time went along my family and I found ourselves traveling for the summer.  All of our time and energy was focused on one another, and it was wonderful.  Together we are complete and we can rest in our togetherness.  The challenge to this peaceful togetherness came when we arrived in our new home and began figuring out the balance between school, church, and home.  It was easy to preserve the integrity of our family without competing draws on our time.  However, after several months, we have found a balance that allows the integrity of our family unit to be complete.

 

            The third definition of integrity seems the most theologically relevant.  “A perfect condition,” it says.  This has me wondering about when conditions are ever perfect.  In the season of Advent, as we prepare for the birth of the Christ, I’ve thought about the conditions of his birth and I think they couldn’t have been much less perfect; young, un-wed, oppressive government, traveling on foot or by pack animal at 9 months pregnant, no room in an inn, animals, no mid-wife, fear, counter-cultural behavior.  Jesus’ life didn’t suddenly gather perfect conditions at any time; homeless, misunderstood, oppressed, hungry, killed.  Yet, it is in the midst of these less than perfect conditions that we find perfection.

 

            Jesus valued different things than people valued and he lived, taught, healed, prayed, and died with integrity to those values.  He modeled integrity for us to show us another way to be.  That is God’s integrity.  Teaching us another way, living and dying with integrity to a value system that the culture, then and now, says is ridiculous.  God is faithful, even when we aren’t, and that may be the ultimate definition of integrity.

 

            Now I end my yearlong reflection on integrity with no real conclusions.  I’ve had a heightened awareness of my own integrity and have focused on how others show integrity.  I’ve fought my own desire to determine who is acting with integrity and when (perhaps next year my star word will be judging).   I’ve grown as a person as I’ve spent intentional time sitting with this word, and it turned out to be anything but dull.  I’ll do it again.  How about you, would you like a word?

 

           

 

 

 

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A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

             Rachel Held Evans is a master storyteller.  In this book she writes of her quest to learn and live according to the precepts set out in the Bible.  Her journey involved growing out her hair, wearing long skirts, calling her husband ‘master,’ sitting on the roof, learning to cook, and caring for a computerized baby.  She also met some amazing women who live according to their beliefs and she shares those stories with the reader in a way that is utterly respectful while still pointing out why she doesn’t live in that way.

 

            Rachel is deeply spiritual and wants to live according to God’s direction, but she reads and digests the Bible with a healthy dose of theological questioning.  The Bible is many things to many people and Evans points out just how much the context matters.  This book points to the context in which the Bible was composed as well as to the implications of taking parts literally and other parts less so.  By trying to live according to a literal interpretation, month-by-month, to parts of the Bible, Evans learns about the faith of women through history and invites the reader to her journey of discovery. 

 

            Evans is a Biblical scholar and she exegetes with care.  Her study of and focus on the eshet hiyil (woman of valor) is a case in point.  She opens up the concept of what it means to be a woman of valor and makes it accessible for 21st century women.  Along the way, she lifts those Hebrew words into a compliment of highest honor.  I long to think of myself as an eshet hiyil in the same manner that I long to hear Jesus say to me, “well done, good and faithful servant.”

 

            This book reminds me repeatedly that my interpretation of faith and life is my own and that my story matters.  I enjoyed this book and I do recommend it.  It wasn’t a fascinating page turner that kept me reading late into the night, but it was engaging and kept me coming back for more.

 

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Drops Like Stars – Rob Bell

 

            This is a fascinating little book about suffering and what it does to us and for our faith.  It talks about being in the box, out of the box, and there’s a box? thinking.  Bell explains how suffering connects us to one another and about how there can be suffering and death by flooring and wallpaper (death by boredom).  Spiritually this reminds us that being keepers of the status quo isn’t what disciples of Christ are called to be.

            My take away message is that it is always better to take a risk and try something even if you may fail.  The journey matters, you learn from failures just as you do from successes (maybe more) and that God can enter through our blemishes. I enjoyed this quick read and recommend it to you.

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Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber

 

            This is the best book, by far, that I’ve read in a long time.  Bolz-Weber is open and honest about her life, her faith, and her doubts.  She emphasizes resurrection, death, and rebirth because that is how she has seen and experienced Jesus in her life.  She almost has me convinced to move incarnation down in order to place resurrection above it in my own list of what part of Jesus’ narrative means the most in my faith journey.  Almost, because I haven’t experienced death like she has.  Rebirth is still something I read about and only occasionally encounter.  However, Bolz-Weber has made me think that maybe I should look at the world with new eyes.

 

            The refreshing-ness of a person of faith openly acknowledging her doubts while still living from a place of faith helps normalize my own experiences.  Her willingness to call bullshit when things don’t add up, the reality check of people living difficult, very messy, very sticky lives, but learning and growing in faith not in spite of, but because of their lives is a message I need to hear over and over again.

 

            I have fallen in love with this Pastrix and will read this book again and again.  I highly recommend this book for anyone who isn’t offended by rough language.

 

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