Monday, November 30, 2009

November 30, 2009 Pastor's Letter

I simultaneously loathe and love clichés such as this: “It’s the journey, not the destination.” I love it because it is grounded in truth, and loathe it because it is a truth I often find myself ignoring.

Maybe we think of Christmas as the destination – or maybe even Epiphany. And while Advent is a season which leads up to these two celebrations, Christmas and Epiphany, it is easy to just think of Advent as a stepping stone before we reach, “the big day,” something we can walk on without thought.

But its times like these, seasons like Advent, that the cliché, “It’s the journey, not the destination,” is most filled with truth – truth that we cannot ignore.

We celebrate Christmas as a time when God has come to be with us, to live with us and to experience life with us in the must humble of ways – as a human being, born of a human mother, as an infant in lying in a feeding trough. And even though we have celebrated Christ’s coming in Christmas’ past, even though we have prepared for Christ’s coming years before, it’s an opportunity to ask ourselves again and again, “Are we really ready to receive Christ into this world?”

That is why we take time to prepare for Christ’s coming. That is why we celebrate Advent, this penitential season full of self-examination and self-inspection: to make our hearts, our lives, and our world ready for Christ’s arrival. Indeed we also take time to prepare the Christmas ham, the presents under the tree and the new garland around the door. But we must make time for Christ’s arrival into our hearts and lives – because He is coming!

And this advent – this time of preparing for Christ’s coming into our lives is a journey.

I would argue most of us cannot just fix one thing and say we are ready for Christ’s arrival. It’s hardly enough to simply change the bed sheets and claim to be ready. Rather there are many things we find ourselves doing, many changes and preparations. Some preparations are as simple as changing the bed sheets, like quitting a habit we know is not good for our relationship with God. But other preparations take time, they take careful planning and include steps and building blocks that build on top of one another. And in this sense – it IS about the journey.

Our spiritual journey is filled with stepping stones and building blocks which help us to find a more right relationship with God. Our spiritual journey is complete with ups and downs, highs, lows, and plateaus, all of which contribute to our relationship with the Divine. Many of us would not be in the relationship with God we are in, without the entirety of our spiritual journey leading up to this point.

Simultaneously, our Christmas and Epiphany experience will not be the same without the journey towards it, without Advent.

Let us journey together, utilizing the tools we’ve each brought for the journey as we prepare for Christ’s coming. And as cliché as it may sound, may we embrace this journey. Because it is both the journey AND the destination that bring us to right relationship with God.

In Hope and Peace… Laura

Monday, November 16, 2009

November 16, 2009 Pastor's Letter

The “end times” are a confusing and sometimes frustrating conversation. And there are plenty of voices contributing to this confusion.

There are many things we know in faith, from scriptures, and from our own experiences with God. We know that God will be with us – to the end. We know that Jesus Christ, in his resurrection will also be with us, through life, through death and even beyond death into the resurrection. We know that God is good, God is faithful and God is trustworthy.

But there are also many things that we question. Are the writings concerning “end times” in the Bible – are they predicting exact moments in the future? Are they responding to the world as the writers knew it, or are they supposed to transcend time and space, speaking to us as well. Were the writers of these “end times” writings in a place of their own end times that forced them to think about such issues? Would places like jail, or certain death influence these writers in certain ways?

Biblical scholars use the term, “eschatology” to describe the study of theories about the end times. Notice however, that eschatology is not the study of the end times themselves, but rather the theories about the end times.

Good eschatology helps us make sense of the present in light of what we know in faith about how God wants things to end. Good eschatology helps us to understand what it means to live in the “already” while also looking forward to the “not yet.” Bad eschatology reads the Bible’s verses as if they are tea leaves, trying to learn from them what Jesus says that no one knows except God – when it will happen, who will be saved etc. Bad eschatology tries to answer questions, that currently have no answer, well at least no better answer than “not yet.”

The book of Revelation is filled with confusing metaphors and images that can complicate our understanding of the end times. And while we need to take care in studying any “end times” scripture, giving it proper examination and scrutiny, I think one of my seminary professors sums up the book of Revelation, and any “end times” scripture or conversation in two words. It only takes two words to provide a good eschatology about the end times. GOD WINS.

Many people have turned the “end times,” into a dark and scary thing, but it is really good news. The end times and the second coming are the promise that the future of all creation is in God’s hands, and God wins. So we do not, and should not worry about it these end times, because they are in God’s hands.

People have tried over and over again to read the tea leaves, to look into their crystal balls, or to read their Tarot cards. While I’m confident they have not been able to predict anything, whether they are able to predict anything or not is beside the point. The point is that God wins. The future of all of creation, including each and every one of us, is in God’s hands. There is a promise and hope in that – and God Wins. And this is good news.

Out of all this confusion, out of the many questions that may come up regarding the “end times,” there is still a bottom line. What is that bottom line you might ask?

It is this: Do not worry. Our future is in God’s hands. This is Good News.

In Hope…… Laura

Monday, November 02, 2009

November 2, 2009 Pastor's Letter

As Michael gave his message on Sunday, I couldn’t help but think of a few of my own situations and life experiences in which I had initially resisted something, but in the end, it was beneficial and a valuable experience.

Immediately, I thought of my best friend from 8th grade, who I met at church camp. She and I both went to church camp on a Sunday afternoon, bitter enemies. At thirteen years old, we could not stand one another, and resisted even admitting to others that we knew each other, or that we went to the same church. I can’t recall a specific reason why we both “resisted” one another so much, but I do remember the surprised look on each of our parents faces when they came to pick us up from church camp the following Saturday. We had become the best of friends, and were just devastated that she had to go on family vacation that following week – it would be a whole TEN DAYS before we could see one another again! I vaguely remember crying as her family drove towards California, and as my family drove me home. But those memories of initially “resisting” her and crying as her family left on vacation are most certainly over-shadowed by the many memories I now share with my best friend of fourteen years. Our friendship has grown into something deep and quite powerful.

I cannot recall why exactly I resisted this relationship with her, or her with me. Was it simply because it was new and unknown? Or maybe it was uncomfortable?

Sometimes situations we initially resist may seem awkward and unpleasant, difficult or distressing. Sometimes they are just downright painful, and hurt for quite some time. More often than not, our first inclination is to ask, “why God, why?” Why would God allow me to be in such a distressing situation – something so uncomfortable? If God is all-powerful, why do I have to live through this painful experience? How can I possibly grow from this experience that I would benefit from such pain?

As the book of Ezekiel tells us, the Israelites asked similar questions while they were living in Exile. Why are we in exile? Is God unjust? Why could God not protect our land of promise? Why isn’t God doing anything about this situation?

Ezekiel’s message to the Israelites in response to such inquiries is one that provides us today with just as much answer and hope as it was meant to provide ancient readers. Ezekiel’s answer to such questions – an answer that came in the form of a vision of the Valley of Dry Bones – is not an answer that necessarily provided immediate comfort and hope. Rather the response Ezekiel gives on behalf of God is to provide an enduring hope, hope that will outlast any tough situation. And we receive that same hope today.

God provides us with that hope in Jesus Christ. For the answers we receive in Jesus Christ are not trite, quick wit answers that only provide fleeting hope. The answers given to us in Jesus Christ are answers which provide enduring hope, to provide us with practices of hope, that we might see more fully God’s ultimate will. We will still experience tough situations in life, and sometimes those situations bring pain, lack of understanding and anguish. But the grief will not last forever. The current and immediate sorrow will be replaced by everlasting comfort and life. The heartache and anguish will be transformed into strength, as we find wholeness in the Body of Christ, in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. May we continue to seek this hope and life in Jesus Christ, even in the midst of new, uncomfortable or down-right painful situations, for it is in God in Jesus that we find our hope, our comfort and new life.

In Hope…… Laura

Monday, October 26, 2009

LSU Tailgating

This weekend I had the chance to experience LSU tailgating and Death Valley! I’ve already received grief from Mizzou friends who say I’m jumping on a band wagon, not being loyal to Mizzou – but I will ALWAYS support MY Tigers. If – wait - when Mizzou and LSU play (Mizzou will make it one of these days!) I will ALWAYS support my Missouri Tigers over ANYONE else. But it’s not necessarily about loyalty, rather, respect, when it comes to witnessing one of these games and tailgating. Above and beyond though, I will always be loyal to MY Tigers! (I’ve also always received grief about supporting kansas when they’re not playing Mizzou, but as my dad reminds me, his kansas education helped get me to my Missouri education – so I have to respect a little.)

I’m just a huge college sports fan in general. While I love my Tigers and will always cheer them on, there’s a certain amount of respect that must be paid to “legends.” Like, the respect owed to the experience of sitting in Rupp Arena, or the respect owed to an experience at Allen Field house (NOTHING beats a Tiger win in Allen Fieldhouse though ;) ). One sports writer included a Saturday tailgating on the LSU campus as one of the most sublime fan experiences in American team sports. (In case you’re wondering, he included these other three: an afternoon game in the middle of summer at Wrigley Field, a crisp fall Saturday morning at Notre Dame, and a cold winter night inside Allen Fieldhouse.)

LSU Tigers don’t call it Death Valley for nothing. The Tiger Stadium seats 92,000+ fans and averages over 90,000 fans per game. During the 1988 LSU-Auburn game, the noise from the stadium was detected by a seismograph on campus, measuring ground movement for 20 MINUTES. And that was when they could only house 79,000 fans!

LSU has an actual Bengal tiger, Mike the Tiger – who has his own $2million+ habitat on campus where he resides when he’s not traveling with the team. His habitat would qualify for a version of MTV’s cribs. He, along with the cheerleaders, the band, the team and Les Miles also pass through all the tailgaters on their way to the stadium, witnessing the 120,000 people there to cheer them on (and oh yeah, party).

About 120,000 fans tailgate at each game, with over two-thirds of the fans tailgating for at least five or more hours before every game. Many even start the tailgate 24 hours in advance. LSU Tiger fans DO have an advantage that most of their games are at night (longer opportunity to tailgate) and it’s nicer weather farther into the season than say anywhere North of here. (See my pictures from the Missouri/Nebraska game).

I’m pretty sure the words “dry campus” do not exist in Southern Louisiana, I’m not sure how I even managed to type them without my computer exploding. While this gives LSU a tremendous advantage to the tailgating experience, LSU tailgating is not ALL about drinking – it’s ALL ABOUT THE FOOD! The ability to enjoy a drink “opening” certainly contributes to the experience in that tailgaters can enjoy a range of beverages, walking around the open fields, assigned parking lots, grass nestled between trees, roads and buildings right on campus where everyone gathers for the legendary tailgates. This is of course, only after you’ve filled your plate.

A friend told me I had to eat a brat while I was there, and that if I didn’t I was “doing it wrong”. I beg to differ friend. If you’re not eating boudin, jambalaya, pastalaya, crawfish etouffee, boiled shrimp, gumbo, kebabs, (plus burgers, brats and hot dogs) and those weird dirty rice fried things – THEN you’re doing it wrong. Their food is only trumped by their hospitality. I witnessed several occasions in my ONE experience this weekend in which people were giving opposing fans grief, shouting “Tiger Bait!” only to be followed by, “Come on over, have somethin’ to eat and drink! Come watch the game on our TV!”

I was giving my brother grief about his wanting a television at the Mizzou tailgate – but I ate my words this weekend. I can’t remember seeing this many Dish receivers in my ENTIRE life, not to mention the many chords, generators, projectors, 52” flat-screens and cables that pepper the tailgating grounds all around. A majority of people watch the game from their tailgates and never have any intention of going into the game. Some of them have spent hundreds of dollars on their season parking pass and probably can’t afford tickets! :)

Bottom line – I’m STILL GUTTED I can’t support my own Tigers, and tailgate in good ol’ CoMo on a regular basis. I would offer my first born if I could have a regular supply of Tiger Paw. :) But I’m also lucky to be able to experience ALL of these sports “greats”: MIZZOU in general (have I told anyone we began the tradition of homecoming?), Allen Fieldhouse, Rupp Arena and now LSU Football. What’s next on my sports legend agenda?!!?
Inside the game - watching the Golden Band from Tiger Land!
PLEASE tell me our seats aren't at the very top! Have I mentioned I'm afraid of heights?

Two Mizzou Kappas tailgating at LSU!

I can barely give Sally a bath without her squirming - NO WAY I could ever do something like this ;)

Just a SMALL glimpse at the insanity that is LSU tailgating!

Monday, October 19, 2009

October 19, 2009 Pastor's Letter

You may notice that each week that I offer the Words of Institution at the table, I use a little different language than Rev. Michael. I often use similar language when offering the Words over the bread, but when offering the Words over the cup, I often say something along these lines: “This cup is a symbol of the new covenant that God is establishing with you.”

I do this because of a lecture from I remember from seminary that has stuck with me ever since. A covenant has to have three things in order to be a “covenant.” It must have, 1) two parties, 2) a set of promises, and 3) a sign (that is, some sign so that you know you are party to the covenant). It is because of this understanding that I prefer those words of institution which include “sign” or “symbol.” It is not the actual cup that is the covenant, it is not the blood that was shed that is the actual covenant. The covenant that God made with all of humanity through Jesus Christ is represented in Christ’s life given for us, and in the cup we share each week. We lift up the cup and partake of the bread each week to remind ourselves that we are part of this covenant, that we are participants in the promises in Jesus Christ. We also do this during worship, in order to honor God, to affirm our commitment to those promises; to the promises that were made to us, and the promises we have made with God.

Our worship on October 18 was full of promises and covenants. We each made covenants with the church, by pledging our time, our energy, our silver and gold, by pledging ourselves to the church. We together made a covenant with God when we consecrated these gifts, pledging to continually set aside a part of our lives, our time, our silver and gold, our energy for God’s purposes and use. We made a covenant with one another that we will maintain these pledges for the good of the church, for if one of us does not uphold our pledge, then our church as a whole suffers. And we made a covenant together, as I was affirmed as your associate minister. We participated in this covenant together, that I will not only minister TO you, but also WITH you here at First Christian Church.

Now we’ve covered the first and the third portions of a “covenant,” both the parties and the symbols or signs of a covenant. But what about the promises made?

You may have heard the saying, “Promises were made to be broken,” but we often hear this saying without understanding where it came from. This saying has made it into our modern vernacular because of a tale from the well-known author, Aesop, from one of Aesop’s fables. The tale of “The Nurse and the Wolf,” goes like this,

“Be quiet now,” said an old Nurse to a child sitting on her lap. “If you make that noise again I will throw you to the Wolf.”

Now it chanced that a Wolf was passing close under the window as this was said. So he crouched down by the side of the house and waited. “I am in good luck today,” thought he. “It is sure to cry soon, and a dantier morsel I haven’t had for many a long day.” So he waited, and he waited, and he waited, till at last the child began to cry, and the Wolf came forward before the window, and looked up to the Nurse, wagging his tail. But all the Nurse did was to shut down the window and call for help, and the dogs of the house came rushing out. “Ah,” said the Wolf as he galloped away, “Enemies promises were made to be broken.”

Promises held in covenant were NOT made to be broken. Lucky for us, we do not ONLY learn about promises from Aesop’s fables. The promises we learn from and follow, are those made by God. God promises to forgive sins, to bless us, to be with us always, to give us meaningful work to do in God’s kingdom and much more. The only thing we need to do to receive these promises are to believe in them.

As we lift up and celebrate the many promises made at worship on October 18, let us model and follow the example of the promise we have received in Jesus Christ. We shall believe in these promises, receive these promises, and live into these promises with one another.

In Hope… Laura

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Random Musings...

I haven't written a blog in a while... so here goes...

Part of the reason I haven't written a blog for a while is I haven't felt particularly passionate about one thing long enough to devote my time and energy to blog about it. My life has felt rather disjointed lately - so it's hard to find the commitment. But I know writing is very cathartic and liberating for me - so I know I should do it more often...

I find myself starting blogs, because I have a quick moment - but I save them as a draft and never finish. Something else steals my attention to the point that I can't focus on the original blog. I think part of it is that I had 6 months off of this crazy schedule I call my life.

I went from having two part time jobs and going to school full time - to one full-time job and school, to one full-time job, to NOTHING. And nothing for six months was good and bad. In those six months I slept! I've never felt so rested in all my life! I lost 15 pounds just by getting enough sleep and not eating at odd hours of the day. I had time to walk the pup, time for myself and I got addicted to a couple TV shows I can't give up now.

I'm SOO happy I moved to BR, LA - seriously I am. I know some people will jump to conclusions that I'm second guessing that decision - but I'm not. I know this is the place that God wanted me, the place that was right for me, right now. I feel like this church is a great place and a congregation in which we can work TOGETHER. Don't get me wrong, I know I am doing this for a profession - but its nice to know the congregation wants to be a part of the family of faith, not just an observer of such a community.

But the newness has worn off, I'm back into an old schedule, and I'm back to multiple jobs. It's like I forgot how to work and live with multiple jobs - so I'm not doing very well at it. I feel like I can't give my all to the church, and that makes me very sad. I want to give all of me to this job - I love it, and when that time comes that I can give ALL of myself, because they can support me in that - then I will. But in the mean time, I know that I will give all I can.

I want to succeed here, I want to be a part of something greater - that I know is possible in this congregation - but its just figuring out how that will work, figuring out if there is a long haul in waiting - or if something exciting will happen soon - if I will be able to give all of myself in the very near future. I trust that it will all work out the way it should, but its the anxiety of waiting in the unknown that wears me down.

I do miss my friends - but I'm making new ones here. It hasn't been instantaneous - but I didn't expect it to be. But I am finding a place here. I'm finding that I fit.

But I still miss Brooke.

I'll admit it - I've shared this with others, it's no secret - when Michael and I split I really found a "new" best friend in Brooke. Not that Brooke and I weren't friends before that, but she was there for me (as were MANY others) - but Brooke provided something for me that was healing and provided wholeness.

And then we lost her.

So now I don't know where I stand. I KNOW I have friends, I know I'm not alone - but it's just not comfortable when old wounds are torn open because of new experiences. These new experiences aren't necessarily bad - but they require stretching and growth, flexibility and extension - all of which can put stress on old wounds.

I'm doing well - I really am.

It's time to sit back, take a deep breath, and re-assess. I came out of the starting gate at a full sprint - and I kept going at that full sprint - and it wore me out.

I'm thrilled to start this new pursuit - I think it will be good.

I'm happy with the new pursuit.

But I need to get my head on straight again - it's been a little jolted.

Straighten up - work hard - enjoy life - live, laugh, and love - a lot!

Monday, September 28, 2009

September 28, 2009 Pastor's Letter

The word communion literally refers to the act of sharing things in common, of participating together, of coming together. And ever since Jesus Christ initiated the ordinance of Holy Communion, Christians have indeed been coming together to argue about what communion is. This seems a bit counter-productive to the purpose of Communion, but we can be truthful about the divisions that communion has caused throughout history. For it is through the embracing of the truth about our differences, recognizing them and acknowledging them that we can begin the journey towards unity.

Unity does not ask us to pretend we are all the same, that we all agree with one another. Neither does World Communion Sunday. We have spent many years reminding ourselves why certain denominations and theological differences are significant. Wars have been fought over different expressions of Christianity; it would be trite of us to sweep all those disagreements and differences under the rug. But World Communion Sunday does ask us to come together, to remember that there is One who is acting, that does make us one. We come together as an act of remembrance, in celebration and worship of the One who truly does make us ALL one.

We find expressions of the Last Supper in three of the four gospels. The Gospel of John tells an account of a Passover meal, shared by Jesus and his disciples, but focuses on the act of foot-washing without mentioning the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Matthew, Mark and Luke however, all share an account of the Lord’s Supper and some version of these Words of Institution, “While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after give thanks he gave it to them saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Matthew 26:26 – 28). And by reading these words of institution, we are reminded that it is in fact God in Christ is doing the acting.

While we act and participate in the Lord’s Supper each and every Sunday, it is God who acts through the bread and the wine, who provides forgiveness, who is present with us, and who unites us through this holy meal. It is not our hands, nor our mouths, our hearts, nor our lives that make this meal holy and divine. It is God acting and participating in this meal with us that makes us One in God through Christ.

So why is this day, this World Communion Sunday important?

By celebrating World Communion Sunday, we, both as Disciples, and with Christians everywhere, recognize that it is God’s acting that brings us together in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The human institutions we call churches and denominations may have disagreements, we may argue, and we may oppose one another on many varying understandings of Christianity. However, in celebrating World Community Sunday, we recognize the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God that we all worship and love. We recognize and continue to invite God into our lives, that we might make room for the Holy Spirit that unites us in God through Christ. World Communion Sunday does not ask us to give up our individual natures that make us unique and different, in and attempt to be unified. Rather World Communion Sunday celebrates the One which makes us all one. World Communion Sunday celebrates the wholeness we find in the life and body of Christ. World Communion Sunday invites us to be part of the gathering of the multitudes, that the gathering of our differences might bring us to wholeness and oneness in Jesus Christ, and the holy meal he offers to his followers.

In Hope… Laura

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Adventure We Call Life

I stole this from another blog, but I felt like it really captured the feeling of my "adventures" to Kentucky and now to Louisiana. No - I'm not thinking of any particular person I've left behind that I will be marrying in the future. And there's not any specific thing that was "trapping" me. Maybe there is someone back "home" - maybe that "someone" is my family, maybe there's no one, maybe I'll stay in Louisiana for longer than I thought, maybe I'll move to New Zealand?!!? :) If I've learned anything in my last few years, it's that making plans like that is not in my "plan." Yes I have goals - but I can still have goals an ambitions, while at the same time I enjoy the ride, making sure to listen to God, my own instincts, my family and loved ones, because I know that whatever I do have ahead, all those people and things will most certainly be a part of this adventure and blessing we call life.

"If you've ever wondered about the one who got away, or the road not taken, or felt any kind of those Hallmark what-ifs, then the following story is for you. Catherine Monahan's account of her second chance at a life with her first love is straight out of a Nora Ephron plot. You can just imagine Meg Ryan or Amy Adams playing her in the movie as she loads her boxes into the car, her face streaming with tears. All that and a happy ending. it's a perfect way to start the week."

"Three years ago I was engaged to be married. Two years ago, I was not. Now I am ... again. To the same person, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Not long after graduating from college, I found myself living in the town where I’d gone to school, with a few good friends and a job at an ad agency I loved. I had been dating Matt for the three years since sophomore year of college. I was comfortable to a fault, moving through a daily routine of meetings, quiet dinners at home, and Dateline murder mysteries. But I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that maybe I’d slipped into this comfortable state a little too early, bypassing another life I was meant to live in between.

I listened longingly to my friends’ tales of their adventures in singledom. I watched them move to Portland, teach in Poland, and try their eager hands at typical post-grad larks. Then a few months later, I found myself accepting a marriage proposal I wasn’t sure I wanted.

Matt and I were as complacent as we were happy. After the ceaseless stress of studying for and taking the bar exam, he was relieved to finally start his career. I had been his sounding board throughout law school, his moral support when we drove to the state capital to take the exam, his cushion from the pins and needles that followed. And suddenly, all was quiet in a way I wasn’t ready for. I loved him more than anything, but when it came to marriage, I felt like a little kid. And when it came to the life we’d made for ourselves, I felt trapped.

I wanted more in a vague, inexplicable way, and until I could put my finger on it, the restlessness would continue. I had been planted, but I hadn’t bloomed yet.

Six months into our engagement, as all the plans and decisions began to pick up speed, my interest in the entire process waned. Yet every time I watched Matt read the paper or fall asleep with the dog, I felt an ache—the ache that comes with knowing you’re about to hurt someone you love.

One Friday evening after work, I inched by him as he stood in the doorway of his apartment and placed the ring on his desk. There were words and crying, most of which I don’t remember. I knew I would feel regret no matter what I chose—but which form of regret was I willing to bear? The pain of hurting a loved one, or the endless dissatisfaction that comes with knowing there is a you that you never got to be? Walking out of his apartment, I felt crazy and cruel, but I was ready to deal with the consequences.

Soon after, I picked up and left Omaha to move to Chicago, a city that had been my Oz since childhood. I’d gotten a job offer just days before, and went for it blindly, anxiously, hopefully. I moved in with a roommate I found online and I learned the ins and outs of the city while getting used to the deep, interminable loneliness.

I started the writing program at Second City. A year later, I was able to see my sketches performed on stage, in front of an audience of people who’d paid to be there. I volunteered at a creative writing tutoring center. I met new people, endured a layoff, found a new job, made mistakes, and learned from them. And I did all of it on my own.

By way of a mutual, unspoken agreement, Matt and I were not in contact during my time in Chicago. I had no idea what he was doing, who he was dating ,or how he felt about me. To a certain extent, it was better not to know. I missed him, and I wished him the best, but I had finally gotten used to city life—the pace and the people, and I never looked back.

And then my dad died after a few weeks of quickly deteriorating health. I quickly learned what it was like to be vulnerable after months of depending on my own strength. Matt was the first person I e-mailed when we got home from the hospital, and after a week of silence, I received a reply. He explained that he had been mountain climbing in the Cascades and hadn’t gotten my e-mail until that day. He has a way with words that could make one of those old-time executioners get misty-eyed. Everything he said was exactly what I needed to hear.

I spent the next few months traveling between St. Louis, where my mom lives, and Chicago, trying to maintain the life I’d built while holding things together at home. They say that the holidays are always difficult after a death, and we had the misfortune to face Thanksgiving and Christmas after just two months. One Sunday night in early December, I was sitting alone in my room when I got an e-mail from Matt.

He told me he loved me, that after more than a year of making the best of his life without me, he wasn’t ready to let us go. Oh, and he was in Chicago. I was paralyzed and didn’t respond until he had left the city. What ensued was another e-mail, followed by a series of phone calls, then a decision to meet for lunch when I returned to Omaha to visit friends in January.

I tried not to be duped by the rush of warmth I felt when I saw Matt again after nearly two years. We filled each other in on our adventures and misadventures over egg salad and fries. He had traveled to Portugal, hiked and climbed on every vertical surface imaginable, made new friends, and smoked his first and last cigarette. He had learned to live without me. I had learned to live without him. We had learned to be happy apart, and here we were, together.

The rest isn’t so much history as a life in the making. We started dating again, taking turns making weekend trips to Omaha and Chicago. Gradually, the topic of marriage crept into our conversation. It felt natural and mutual and—this time—it felt right.

Matt and I are getting married in November. It will be simple and unfussy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. We are the same people, but we are better, and, after two years of loneliness and personal growth, we are better for each other."é-order-marry-him#

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

September 08, 2009 Pastor's Letter

“I have good news, and I have bad news. Which would you prefer to hear first?”

I always hate that question. Can’t we just forget about the bad news, just sweep it under the rug until another time? I also stress out when asked this question; maybe I should hear the good news first, so that it will lessen the blow of the bad news. Or maybe I should hear the good news last, which might make me feel better after hearing the bad news. But what if the bad news is SO bad that I can‘t stand to even comprehend the good news?! See what I mean? STRESS!

So, I have good news, and I have bad news. Which would you prefer to hear first?

I’m going to make that decision for you – because the good news I have to share depends on knowing the bad news.

Here’s the bad news. You may have heard it before, but here goes – we are sinners. Sometimes we don’t talk about this as much as we probably should, for fear of sounding too much like a church that only preaches “hell-fire and damnation,” but it’s important for us to remember and to identify.

Many of us might define sin differently, or might explain how sin came to be in the world in different ways. Scholars throughout history have argued over such explanations, sometimes which have caused significant splits in congregations. However, regardless of how exactly we define sin, or where we believe sin came from, one thing we can all agree upon is that it is present. Sin is present, we are sinful, and we commit sins. And no human being is immune to sin.

One of my favorite books called, Crazy Talk: A Not-So-Stuffy Dictionary of Theological Terms describes sin in this way. Theologically, people fail at being human the way God intends humans to be because of a condition known as sin. Also known as “fallenness,” “brokenness,” and “the human condition,” sin refers to the state of who we are, the condition that we are stuck in. The word sin is also used to describe the individual moments in which we all go about our failing. Because of sin (the condition of failing), we sin (we do things that make us fail). Confusing? Maybe a bit. But bottom line – there is sin in the world, and no human being is immune to it.

So what’s the good news?

Jesus. Jesus is the good news. Jesus is the good message. Jesus is the Gospel. Jesus, sent from God, Jesus as God, Jesus IS the Good News. In the midst of our failing, our fallenness, our brokenness, our human condition, and in our sinfulness, Jesus, God, has come to be with us, to share with us, and to save us. This is the Gospel – that “God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life.”

Again, we, especially as Disciples of Christ, may understand Jesus’ presence with us, Jesus’ death and resurrection, and eternal life in different ways, but the bottom line is that Jesus IS Good News. Jesus is the Gospel.

As we begin to study The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss, and always, let us remember; Dr. Seuss, the author of the book, Rev. Michael, myself, you, and many others – we may understand different versions of the Good News. We may have different understandings of Jesus’ presence with us, our salvation, we may understand these differently, but inherently Jesus IS Good News. But, “As member of the Christian Church, we confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and proclaim him Lord and Savior of the world.” (Taken from the Preamble to the Design of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

And despite any of our differences in understanding, we celebrate one another, as brothers and sisters in Christ. Not only that, we rejoice in new illustrations of that Good News. We celebrate new ways that we might understand God, and God’s gifts to us. Whether it’s a new series on The Gospel According to…, or a brother or sister in our congregation sharing this new illustration of God’s love, let us open our ears, our minds and our hearts, that we may hear anew the Good News!

In Hope…. Laura

Monday, August 03, 2009

To Ordain or Not to Ordain?

I've continued to think about and pray about this decision - I do need to study the document more - but here are some more 'initial' thoughts...

I first owe a friend an apology. My reaction to "being ordained on the Internet" is more based on a different friend who once proclaimed, "you're just mad at me because I found a quicker way to do it." This different friend has apologized and did it in jest - but it still hurt. Not because of what he necessarily said - but because it's already hard to go into the ministry in general. Half the time, people don't know how to act when you tell them you're a minister, and people have no idea what being ordained is - you might as well have told them "I painted a finger painting!" because there isn't a general knowledge of the ministry, ordination - not to mention Disciples of Christ. Not that I (nor most of my minister friends) went into the ministry for the "prestige" but we still deserve to be proud of what we've accomplished - of how far we've come and proud of the opportunities we now have to serve in ministry.

However, there are people who get licensed or ordained on the internet for various reasons - some of which are legit (ie my friend to whom I owe an apology). I don't believe a couple should not be able to have a spiritual wedding just because they don't want to get married in the church. Spirituality and religiousity can come in many forms, and any person that respects that and embraces that deserves my respect as well.

There are a couple things that have come to my attention since the discussion on my last post. Firstly, yes you can pass medical boards and the BAR exam without the educational requirements of law school or med school - and it would be hard to do - but it's possible. But that's the first problem with the ordination process through the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) - we don't have any final tests - we don't have anything that is a "universal requirement" or test that we all have to take in order to be ordained. I just fear that this new amendment makes the subjectivity of this process even worse.

While yes, the longer document (thank you Tim for that link) states that ordination is still the expected "normal" track - there is still now the exception that some people may be able to go the alternative track. But who decides this? We already have regions that struggle in supporting their seminary students on the path to ordination - not to mention a very sad support for many licensed ministers, so where are we going to find the resources and people to decide when it is appropriate for someone to follow the alternative track. Not to mention someone has to develop the alternative track and manage it. This is what the document says, "Candidates for Ordination are expected to follow the seminary track, unless, in consultation with their Region, the Regional Ministry Commission determines that their economic, linguistic, vocational, or familial circumstances make the apprentice track more appropriate." The fact that some regions already struggle, while others are strong - already leaves so much room for flexibility... it just seems like this would be making it worse. Yes, I notice that it mentions work with the Region and the Regional Ministry Commission - but then are we taking away ordaining duties from the region and giving them back to the national level/offices?

I do agree that we need to address the separation many people make between licensed and ordained ministers. It is not a matter of better or worse - and people's qualifications, both from education and from their experience in life can make them a wonderful minister for one particular congregation. Congregations and pastors must fit with one another - and however that comes about, licensed, commissioned, ordained - as long as we are all seeking servant leadership with one another then I suppose it doesn't matter much. So in the end, I'm not sure that this resolution will solve any sort of "prestige" issues between ordained and licensed/commissioned ministers. If anything I think it will only make matters worse by adding another distinction - ordained with an MDiv, or ordained on the AT.

Sara - I also agree with what Rev. Jared Trullinger posted about having ministers in general have more training when it comes to several aspects of ministry. And this alternative track states that ministers seeking the alternative track to ordination will still be expected to be competent in a certain number of areas. However as I looked through those areas, Lines 732 through 794 on the longer document - I realized there are some that my seminary training did not prepare me for. As an example, I was a business major in college, and when I first came to seminary I thought that would put me behind my colleauges. Now that I look back I wouldn't say that I'm ahead of any of my colleagues, but I do feel blessed that I have some training in the "business" side of church that not everyone has experienced in seminary.

Overall though - what this brings to my attention is that we have a systemic problem with supporting people who want to go into the ministry and we are not providing a systemic set of answers.

All ministers can always use extra and more training - but lets first get the regions at least somewhat equally on par with one another. Some regions have very stringent meeting, study and other requirements for ordination - while others ordain individuals without even having them meet with a committee. Some regions have wonderful continuing education programs for their ministers, while others leave it up to each individual minister. Some regions have great educational opportunities for licensed ministers while others tell them to read a book. Some regions offer great respect and support for licensed ministry - simply a different ministry than ordained, not better or worse, different - while others offer them no recognition and no support or mobility for employment opportunities. Some regions offer amazing scholarships and help to get people to seminary, whether they are fresh out of undergrad or second career with a spouse and three children - and still others struggle to know what a scholarship is.

There are so many more problems this resolution does not seem to answer. I agree there needs to be something done - but I'm just not sure this is it.

I have so much more to say... but for now I will wait for the comments... ;)

Saturday, August 01, 2009

I'm Offended...

... on so many levels, and disappointed in my denomination this day.

For those of you who don't know, the denomination into which I was ordained, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) operates on a congregational polity. Rather than a "top-down" structure (think Roman Catholic Church), the DOC operates according to congregational polity. Every two years we gather at a meeting called the General Assembly and ask representatives from each congregation, as well as licensed and ordained ministers, to participate in what is essentially a gigantic board meeting. We vote to accept reports, nominate and vote on leaders, and vote on resolutions. We do lots of other things at this General Assembly as well - but that's the idea of what I'm getting at in order to write this particular blog.

This General Assembly, in 2009, the GA of the CC(DOC) voted on Resolution No. 0922 (Click on the Link to read the official Resolution). Essentially our denomination voted today to accept an "Alternative Track" to Ordination, which does not include a Master of Divinity degree.

Now I realize my reaction to this is colored by the fact that I recently graduated with my M.Div and was ordained in the CC(DOC), however it is not the basis for my argument. I am offended because I spent the time, effort, energy, passion and life preparing for Ordained ministry, but my time in seminary has not DETERMINED my response to this.

If you want my first, gut reaction, it would be, "this is crap." But then I remember that I can't simply responded with how I feel and I must have reasoning behind my feeling, explanation and more than just, "I don't like it."

While I know our denomination, and many denominations, has in the past utilized the apprenticeship model, I can't help but think we are responding more out of a look towards the "good ol' days" rather than a rational approach to our higher education problems. Because doctors have been sued for malpractice and because we have medical doctors who are unable to find educational opportunities that fit their practices close to where their families live, should we change our preparation for medical doctors to an apprenticeship model? Because Med Student Jane wants to train in this particular field of medicine, but the only place that kind of education is offered is 600 miles away, should we allow her to still pass state medical boards and be certified etc, called DOCTOR because she served as an apprentice to a similar doctor in her home town?

I can appreciate some of the "problems" that were listed in this resolution - yes there are fewer opportunities for people to go to seminary, whether it be because of family, distance, money, or whatever reason, there are fewer opportunities for people receive their M.Div. The answer is not to just tell them, you don't need it, we'll have you do any equivalent amount of reading books and we'll call it even - the answer is to provide other forms of support in order to get people to seminary.

Yes, licensed ministers need more mobility when it comes to being able to circulate their papers within the Search and Call system. But rather than saying, "only ordained ministers can circulate nationally, so we'll just call you ordained" - can't we change the computer system so that licensed ministers can circulate nationally as well?

While I agree that we need to strengthen recognition of licensed lay ministers, this can be accomplished with the education of the congregation as we inform them why we are now calling them commissioned - and why language like this is so powerful. But do we really have to push down those who are ordained in order to strengthen recognition of those who are licensed? Recognition and respect are not in limited quantities - if an ordained minister receives recognition and respect, it does not mean there are limited amounts for a licensed minister to receive. Are we really operating on the assumption that "recognition" is a zero-sum gain issue?

I recently got into an argument with a friend/acquaitance when we were discussing people who can get ordained on the internet for $5. Sadly, it can happen. He asked me how someone else getting ordained on the internet changes the work that I've done, or the preparation that I've experienced. Well it doesn't - but it does change the perception of how "other" people see me. I already struggle with the fact that people think I only work on Sundays, and that I just read the bible a few times and poof I became a minister. And no - I'm not responding ONLY out of how other people view me, but if we're talking about a strengthened recognition - then I'm going address an already wavering recognition of the office of ordained minister as it is.

My knee-jerk reaction continues to be, "this is crap." It doesn't matter how much you change the "alternative track," or how much reading you add to it - it's not seminary. I moved 600 miles to go to seminary. I have colleagues that uprooted their families and moved them 1200 miles so that they could go to seminary. Seminary is an experience - getting your M.Div and training under biblical and theological professors is an experience - and they are experiences you can not get ANYWHERE else, other than seminary. It's not just the education aspect, its the community, its the spiritual side, its the journey, its the life-changing experience only those who receive their M.Div will experience. And while I am a believer in the "priest-hood of all believers" in the sense that no individual must go through a clergy mediator in order to have a relationship with God, I do think there is an aspect of being Ordained that is a setting-apart - and something that only life with a seminary education can prepare you for.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

A Letter from Paul Harvey...

I've been cleaning out/off my computer - random things and getting rid of some things I won't need any more - like serving schedules from my old church position.

Either way - I found this "letter" in a folder I had been saving forwards and jokes from emails I've received over the years. I just thought it was interesting and wanted to share... Any thoughts?

Paul Harvey Writes:

We tried so hard to make things better for our kids that we made them worse. For my grandchildren, I'd like better. I'd really like for them to know about hand me down clothes and homemade ice cream and leftover meat loaf sandwiches. I really would. I hope you learn humility by being humiliated, andthat you learn honesty by being cheated.

I hope you learn to make your own bed and mow the lawn and wash the car. And I really hope nobody gives you a brand new car when you are sixteen.

It will be good if at least one time you can see puppies born and your old dog put to sleep. I hope you get a black eye fighting for something you believe in, I hope you have to share a bedroom with your younger brother. And it's all right if you have to draw a line down the middle of the room, but when he wants to crawl under the covers with you because he's scared, I hope you let him. I hope you have to walk uphill to school with your friends and that you live in a town where you can do it safely. On rainy days when you have to catch a ride, I hope you don't ask your driver to drop you two blocks away so you won't be seen riding with someone as uncool as your Mom.

If you want a slingshot, I hope your Dad teaches you how to make one instead of buying one. I hope you learn to dig in the dirt and read books. When you learn to use computers, I hope you also learn to add and subtract in your head.

I hope you get teased by your friends when you have your first crush on a girl, and when you talk back to your mother that you learn what ivory soap tastes like.

May you skin your knee climbing a mountain, burn your hand on a stove and stick your tongue on a frozen flagpole. I don't care if you try a beer once, but I hope you don't like it. And if a friend offers you dope or a joint, I hope you realize he is not your friend.

I sure hope you make time to sit on a porch with your Grandpa and go fishing with your Uncle. May you feel sorrow at a funeral and joy during the holidays. I hope your mother punishes you when you throw a baseball through your neighbor's window and that she hugs you and kisses you at Christmas time when you give her a plaster mold of your hand.

These things I wish for you - tough times and disappointment, hard work and happiness. To me, it's the only way to appreciate life.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Dear Brooke -
I secretly hope I'll never stop missing you. Because I'm afraid that if I stop missing you - maybe that means I've forgotten you. But I most certainly haven't forgotten you - mainly because there are so many things that have happened recently that I want to share with you.
This week was graduation. The whole family came into town - and it was an event. But I realized when I went to rehearsal for graduation that the last time I was in Memorial Hall - was when I was celebrating your graduation. It made me want you to be there all the more. Yes, I realize it was for selfish reasons - but nonetheless.
I just hope I can find someone else who will patiently listen to me talk about my family and my nieces and nephews and not get sick of hearing about it.
As I'm searching for a position and trying to discern where I'm supposed to go there are so many things I want to talk through with you. Just like class work - just talking through it all with you makes it so much clearer. Even if I had the answer right in front of me - I need someone to talk it through with. We both know I can do all the talking - but at the same time - I can't hear you talking back.
Oh and men...there's so much to talk about at this point. We could ALWAYS talk about dating and relationships...I only hope you know what's going on with my dating life right now... it would make you smile.
I miss your smile - I miss your laughter - I miss my friend.
Sometimes I feel bad when I don't think about you - but then if I think about you too long - it makes me cry.
I know you're still here - but life's just not the same without you.

I miss you friend...

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Red Stick

Some of you may know - some may not - but I'm currently in Baton Rouge, LA interviewing for an associate position at a church down here in the area. I've been hesitant to talk about any of the positions I've been called for, just because I'm so unsure. I'm not really superstitious, but at the same time, I don't want to jinx a position by talking about it. Simultaneously, I'm so unsure of what I want right now - its hard to articulate what's been going through my mind.

I desperately want to be working in my field, in ministry that I've been going to school for and training for, for so long. However, I've also been in school for the last 21 years of my life. I'm unsure of how to live my life outside of school. I'm not sure I can live life unless its in semester increments and that's scary to me. I know most of my friends went through this small "quarter" life crisis four years ago when they finished college - but finishing my graduate degree now has forced me to experience that floundering of not really being sure where you're going, where you're headed or knowing where you think you might want to be headed.

I'm young, single, no children, no significant other - if there is any time in my life to live in another city and have fun and experience life - living life for me, being a little selfish - it's now. When I have a significant other and children there are hundreds of other things to take into consideration. Will there be a job market for my significant other? Are the schools systems good? Will my children grow up in a healthy environment here?

But at the same time - I sincerely love and miss my family and my nieces and nephews. I feel like I've always been understood as "the one" who was going to "break away" and do something out of the ordinary - get out of town so to speak - but I can't decided if I put myself in that situation - if I was pushed into that characterization or if its some combination of both. And now I'm wondering and questioning which one is really me.

I have absolutely loved living in Lexington, and have been completely fine moving away from my family at that point. But for whatever reason - this seems SO different - so much more permanent - so different. Why though? I knew seminary was only going to be around 4 years and anymore many associates only stay at a position about 5 - 7 years. Not that I would be pushed out after that - but whatever church I end up at in the next few months would most likely NOT be surprised if in 5 years I announced I was moving.

So all these things and thoughts, questions and insecurities are compounded by the fact that this is really a two day long interview - which to say the least is terrifying. The people have been amazing and it has nothing to do with them. But I've always been fine in a "regular" interview setting. Not to blow smoke up my own skirt, but I can handle an interview pretty well. I know how to dress myself up and participate in an interview across a board room table, or in someone's office. I apprently don't however know how to conduct an interview that is two days long, includes 4 meals and several "casual" and "business" situations - and the interaction of the two.

I think I've tried to convince myself over the last couple of months that there's no reason I should be stressed with life right now - I technically have no job (yes I have a part time job - but you know what I mean), I don't have school responsibilities and I'm just living off the generosity of other people at the moment. So in all reality I shouldn't have a huge amount of stress. At the same time - this interview has my very flustered and unsure of myself. Again - not to build myself up - but this is a weird feeling for me and that compounds the situation by the fact that I'm really unsure how to handle it...

So in the end - this interview process started this afternoon - around 3pm - and it actually has been really nice. It's been very laid back and I feel like there will be a fantastic opportunity for the church to get to know me and vice versa in a very relaxed yet serious and committed manner. They've been so nice and so wonderful.

But I'm also terrified and sort of want to vomit.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

New Zealand Connection

Just for our own personal enjoyment/interest - but also as a way to explain to all my friends how I have a New Zealand family, we sat down tonight and "mapped out" all the visits our families' have had since 1981.

First of all, there are two families - beginning with mine. Randy & Pat, Chad, Kerri and Laura.

Then there's Jenni & Doug, Jamie, Hannah and Rupert.

In 1980/1981 my parents (Randy and Pat) and my NZ parents (Doug and Jenni) met through welcome wagon when they all lived in Syracuse, NY - and we've just been friends ever since. Rupert and I weren't part of the family quite yet in 1980/1981 - but that's the beginning of this connection...

1991 - Jenni came back to the states to celebrate her 25th HS reunion (she was a foreign exchange student back then). Jenni came to KC for a visit on her way through the states
1992 -
1993 -
1994 - Doug came over for a business trip and dropped off some of Jamie's things ;) Jamie also arrived in the US for one year of High School.
1995 - Jamie finishes his "Senior Year" of High School and Jenni came over for Jamie's graduation.
1996 -
1997 - Kerri came to NZ for a visit over her Christmas break.
1998 - Jamie came to USA for a visit as part of his 21st birthday celebration.
1999 -
2000 - Pat and Randy visit NZ and meet Jamie's girlfriend at the time, Hannah.
2001 -
2002 - Laura studied abroad at Victoria University. Chad also came for a visit to NZ while I lived in NZ. Also in 2002, Rupert came to Kansas City before departing for Fresno State on a soccer scholarship, and also spent Christmas/New Year's with us.
2003 - Jamie and Hannah came to Kansas City on their way to their "Overseas Experience" in London.
2004 - Doug and Jenni came to Kansas City on their way to see Jamie and Hannah in London.
2005 - In August, Randy, Pat, Chad, Christie, Kerri and Laura went to California for Rupert's wedding and was able to see the entire New Zealand family. In October, Jamie came to the States for THREE DAYS to be at Chad's wedding in Dodge, Nebraska!
2006 - Laura went to London to see Jamie and Hannah on her way back from Poland from a school trip. Chad and Christie also decided to visit Jamie and Hannah in London and make a quick trip over to France.
2007 - Jamie and Hannah came to Kansas City on their way home from London, before returning to New Zealand.
2008 - Randy flew to California on a business trip and was able to see Rupert right before Rupert flew home to New Zealand.
2009 - Jamie and Hannah get married! Randy, Pat, Chad, Kerri, Garrett and Laura come to New Zealand to celebrate with the family!
2010? - Maybe Chad and Christie will be over for a visit? :)

We hope there will be many more experiences in the future - and that the next generation will keep this going! ;)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Preparing a Place for God

This Lenten season, rather than taking something out of my life to observe this 40 day journey – I have added to my life. I've taken on two separate daily devotions for the journey – both of which give me something to think about each day. If discipline in the spiritual life is "the concentrated effort to create the space and time where God can become our master and where we can respond freely to God's guidance," then a discipline of adding more devotion time seems quite appropriate. I hope my Lenten discipline will create flexible boundaries "that keep time and space open for God – a time and a place where God's gracious presence can be acknowledged and responded to." I feel like this is a much better use of my time than taking French fries or soda out of my life. How is the absence of fast food going to help me grow closer to God?

Today I'm mostly intrigued by the writings of Thomas Merton. He introduces the notion of compunction.

"Compunction is a baptism of sorrow, in which the tears of the penitent are a psychological but also deeply religious purification, preparing and disposing him [or her] for the sacramental waters of baptism or for the sacrament of penance. Such sorrow brings joy because it is at once a mature acknowledgment of guilt and the acceptance of its full consequences: hence it implies a religious and moral adjustment to reality, the acceptance of one's actual condition. The acceptance of reality is always a liberation from the burden of illusion that we strive to justify by our errors and our sins. Compunction is a necessary sorrow, but it is followed by joy and relief because it wins for us one of the greatest blessings: the light of truth and the grace of humility. The tears of the Christian penitent are real tears, but they bring joy."

My first thought – is what the heck is compunction? I thought I had a pretty good vocabulary base – but then again – there's always room for more. Compunction being regret, reluctance, guilt or hesitation seems scary to me. I've always said I don't like to live with regrets – only learning experiences – so the idea that I need to live with a certain amount of regret seems terrifying. But I'm thinking compunction is something different: to regret doing something because of its negative outcome – but still committing to learn from the experience – not simply wishing it hadn't happened. By saying I live without regrets – I've been striving to justify an illusion – which has become a burden. It's not that I've ignored my wrongdoings – but I realize now that trying to live completely without regrets is a bad thing. Without acknowledging the negative effect something has had on your life – how can you really rectify the occurrence or change your behavior for the better? By fully acknowledging the wrong-doing, either to yourself, towards God, or toward another, you are liberating yourself from the illusion that it didn't happen, or that it wasn't as bad as others say it was. It's a matter of cleansing yourself from the burden – not simply ignoring it because you don't want to have regrets. I pray that God would bestow God's grace upon me, so that life's disappointments, and my regrets, will bring out the best in me and not the worst. I pray that by admitting my regrets, and cleansing them from my life – I will allow for God to move more fully in my life, that I might be preparing a place for God. Amen.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Season of Celebration

As we begin this Lenten season with Ash Wednesday, you may wonder why I've suggested we are beginning a season of celebration. After all, Ash Wednesday is traditionally a day to remind us of the ways in which we are not living fully into our relationship with God, to remind us of our own humanity and our eternal need for God, and to remind us of that word we dread so much – to remind us of our sinfulness. As Protestants – and especially as Disciples – the word "SIN" scares most of us. It scares most of us because it requires that we admit we are not fully capable of always doing the right thing, of not always putting God first in our lives, that we have failed at fully embracing the mystery of God in our lives. I also don't like the word sin – because it implies that something is out of my control – and yes I'm a bit of a control freak. I think mostly though it scares us, because as we admit sin, we feel like we have to admit consequence as well. And while I feel comfortable admitting my own faults, my own sins, and pointing out the sins of our culture and the world around us – I would be lying if I said I wasn't troubled by the notion of consequence.

We live in a culture with strong notions of "justice," (the notion of justice is for another blog) and full of equations in which if a wrong-doing is committed – a consequence or a price of equal value must be paid. There are TV shows that thrive off this notion – Miami Vice, Columbo, NYPD Blue, Law and Order (all 14 versions), CSI (all 5 versions), Bones, Without a Trace – I could go on and on. Someone commits an offense and the show is dedicated to making sure that someone pays a price.

We've lived in this culture for a long, long time, and it's hard push our minds out of that culture and wrap our minds around a God whose eternal love no longer demands a price (of death or anything else) to be paid for our sin. While there are many definitions of sin: transgression of divine law, a reprehensible or regrettable action or behavior, offense against principle or standard, deliberate disobedience to the known will of God, a condition of estrangement from God resulting from disobedience, something regarded as shameful, deplorable, or utterly wrong, I would like to offer my favorite description of sin. It comes from a book called, "Crazy Talk: A Not-so-stuffy Dictionary of Theological Terms." Crazy Talk identifies sin as two things: 1. Why people suck, and 2. How people suck.

Sin is what is at work in the background of all the reasons we as humans suck, and how we suck, it is the background of the universal human condition known variously as self-centeredness, ego, or other more or less clinical, casual or caustic term. In short: we suck.

People suck at being human the way God intends humans to be because we are sinful. It is the state of who we are, the condition we are stuck in.

I'm not going to resort to saying that sin entered the world when two beings ate a piece of fruit from a tree. But I also won't say that God made us sinful. I will say that God made us human, made us mortal, and made us imperfect. Yes, God created all things, including humans, and called it all GOOD, but God never called us all perfect. If we were perfect, wouldn't we be God?

Because we are human, because we are mortal, because we are imperfect by the nature of our being, by the nature of our NOT being divine and eternal, we must deal with and resist this condition of sin. As our root problem, as our biggest sin, I argue that we are constantly denying the presence of our God who is fully present, who has been fully present in our past, who continues to be in our present time, and who will continue to be present in our future, throughout all eternity. Hence that steadfastness and eternal part about God. J The cause of all our individual sins, is that we continually fail to acknowledge God's presence, refuse to see God's presence, and act accordingly. We commit individual sins when we continually deny God's presence in our lives. We live as if God were not with us every moment of every day, and live as if we could hide from God. Did Jonah and the whale teach us nothing?!

As this favorite book of mine continues, we use SIN – or some derivative thereof because we are afraid of that actual word – "to describe the individual moments in which we all go about our sucking. Because of sin (the condition of sucking), we sin (we do things that suck). We commit individual sins in thousands of ways every day."

So again Laura – how is this ever so uplifting blog supposed to remind us that we are entering a season of celebration?

Because as we acknowledge our own sinfulness, or for those who are afraid to say the word SIN – our own suckingness – we also allow God to enter our lives. While we acknowledge our own mortality, our on inabilities, our own imperfections, we are also admitting and acknowledging the eternity of God, the infiniteness of God, the perfection of God. Thank you Plato, the duality of our lives helps us to recognize the opposite side of the coin. While we are imperfect, God is perfect, while we are finite, God is infinite. While we are temporary, God is eternal. While we are apathetic, God is love. While we are indifferent, God is faithful.

We don't start out this season of Lent reminding ourselves of all our problems and all the bad things about ourselves just to make us feel terrible and depressed. We acknowledge these things, because it helps to remind us of the flip side of the coin. In death there is resurrection. In a desolate winter, there is a lively spring. In intense sorrow, joy patiently waits. In pain, healing breaks through. From despair, hope arises.

We are not entering a season of punishment, but rather a season of healing, in which we celebrate the many things God brings to our lives, and the many ways in which we need God in our lives. We celebrate the healing that will occur. As we expose our wounds and our scars, we are making room for God's healing love and healing presence in our lives. As we make ourselves vulnerable through confession and repentance, we cast off those things and make room for God's Spirit to move within us. As we see one side of the coin, let us turn it over. Let us celebrate.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Future Plans

Just as a clarification - and since I've been getting asked this question a lot - I thought I might explain my plans for the next few months.

March 1st I will preach my last sermon at Woodland Christian Church, and depart with love and support from a congregation that has nurtured me from my first days in seminary. And while I am definitely sad to go - I am also very excited for what is to come.

March 7th I will be moving most, if not all, of my stuff into "storage." A friend of mine has a rather large parsonage that she is not using, and has agreed to let me store my things there until this summer.

March 9th I will be departing for New Zealand for 15 days and couldn't be more excited! As many of you know I lived in New Zealand for 7 months when I was at Mizzou and would go back in a heart beat! My New Zealand brother is getting married - so almost all of the Phillips clan is making it down there for that amazing celebration!

March 23rd I will return to the United States jet lagged and wishing I knew what day it was - but will hopefully have some time to relax. At this point I do not have a job lined up with a new congregation - but have been in the Search and Call process for almost three months. For a few weeks, starting March 23rd, I will be living with a friend in her guest bedroom and trying to continue the job search. Should nothing open up by mid-late April I may choose at that point to move back to Kansas City temporarily while I wait for a call.

I made this decision, because I believe in the Search and Call process, and it seems as if it is working already. While it's not working as fast as I would have hoped - I know I'm learning a lesson in patience ;) It would be silly for me to automatically move all my things and life back to Kansas City on March 7 for a couple of reasons. One, I would have to pay for a storage unit for who knows how long, but mainly I would be moving my life 600 miles west, not knowing why. What if something comes about and I end up having to move my life 1200 miles back the same direction I came - when I could have simply left my life here in Lexington for a while.

While its not ideal and I will technically be living out of suitcases for about two months - it seems to me the best option. I trust in the Search and Call process and trust that something will come up in the next few months. Even if I don't have a job secured for May 1st or anything like that - I trust that God will lead me in the right direction if I just listen closely and discern where it is that God is leading me. So in the mean time - while I sit and try to listen for God's direction - I wanted to try and do so with as little clutter and craziness as possible. So staying here in Lexington seems to be the way that will happen.

As always if you've heard of any job openings - please pass on my name, and to me their information. ;)

Maybe this time of transition will be a time in which I can visit friends and catch up with long lost friends. But whatever it is - I know I'm looking forward to the adventures God has in store for me!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I again have to preface this by saying - this is by no means written in response to any one person - to any one relationship - or to anyone I have been dating. There was/is no one in my mind when I was writing this...I was merely going through my blog editing something things and deleting some things and thought I would ponder these things once again...

I posted this almost 4 years ago... Valentine's Day 2005... but I think it's still fitting.

From the words of Carrie Bradshaw, "At what point does the art of compromise, become compromising?"
I know relationships require compromise. And I know that relationships are going to change me, at least a little bit - even the short term relationships have the ability to change you. But at what point in a relationship do you see yourself compromising so much that you're not necessarily yourself anymore? And if and when you hit that point, how do you know if that is a good change, or a bad change? Maybe the "yourself" you thought of all along, is not really the person you wanted to be, and that you are creating a new self while you are with this person you call your partner? Or maybe you're holding yourself back because you don't want to change, afraid that you'll change too much for that one person? Or maybe you'll just change too much in general - from what you were? Is change in these situations always bad? I mean at someone point - part of the reason you are in a relationship is because you like who you are with that other person. At the same time - we often become people we don't like when we're in a relationship. Surely there's a formula for the amount of change you do in a relationship before you do or do not like yourself ;) At some point, there is definitely somebody worth changing for. If you are not who you want to be, and that one person comes along - romantic or otherwise - we often attribute hard life changes to the support and care of others. With that - How do you decide if that one person is the right person you are supposed to be changing and compromising for? And if you have to ask yourself all these questions, is any of it really worth it?

And as I was finishing typing this blog - I only thought it fate that the radio started to play "I'm Still a Guy" by Brad Paisley - check out the lyrics ;)

When you see a deer you see Bambi and I see antlers up on the wall.
When you see a lake you think picnics and I see a largemouth up under that log.
You're probably thinkin' that you're gonna change me.
In some ways well maybe you might.
Scrub medown, dress me up, oh but no matter what remember I'm still a guy.
When you see a priceless French painting I see a drunk naked girl.
You think that riding a wild bull sounds crazy and I'd like to give it a whirl.
Well love makes a man do some things he ain't proud of
and in weak moment I might walk your sissy dog, hold your purse at the mall but remember I'm still a guy.
I'll pour out my heart, hold your hand in the car, write a love song that makes you cry.
Then turn right around knock some jerk to the ground 'cause he copped feel as you walk by.
I can hear you now talkin' to your friends sayin',
"Yeah girls he's come a long way from draggin' his knuckles and carryin'a club and buildin' a fire in a cave."
But when you say a back rub means only a back rub then you swat my hand when I try.
Well now what can I say at the end of the day,"Honey, I'm still a guy."
These days there's dudes gettin' facials, manicured, waxed and botoxed.
With deep spray-on tans and creamy lotiony hands you can't grip a tackle box.
Yeah, with all of these men linein' up to get neutered it's hip now to be feminized.
I don't highlight my hair, I've still got a pair. Yeah, honey I'm still a guy.
Oh my eyebrows ain't plucked there's a gun in my truck.
Oh thank god, I'm still a guy.

Monday, February 09, 2009

25 Things... I finally gave in... my brain needed a break today!

I finally decided to do this after receiving 14 millions "tags" in other people's to do it....

25 things you may not have known about me

1. I lived in New Zealand for 7 months in 2002 and I’m headed back there four weeks from today!

2. I loathe feet – do not touch me with yours – but yes I want you to rub mine. (See #5 for the reason)

3. I spent my 24th birthday touring the concentration camps Auschwitz/Birkenau, followed by an inability to have a drink at dinner because the Pope was also in Poland, followed by a night in an Arab Sheesha bar (yep still in Poland).

4. A couple of times, I worked as a waitress for a "state" dinner in New Zealand. It was at the home of the Ambassador from Mexico to New Zealand and his many Ambassador guests. I suppose I might have started World War III because I screwed up on who to serve third or fourth based on their gender and matter of importance. There were a couple other occasions....

5. I danced for a professional ballet company for four years until I had to decide whether I wanted to pursue ballet as a professional career or have a “normal” college career.

6. I’ve gone parasailing, bungee jumping and sky diving but I’m terrified of heights

7. Not only was I in band all throughout Middle, Junior and High School – but I was the leader of the band nerds – because I was the drum major.

8. I’ve worked in a tanning salon, as a hostess, a server, a nanny, a cashier in a grocery store, in a video department, in a prosthetics and orthotics office, in the salad bar department at another grocery store, the director of a nannying service, in jewelry store, at a day care, as a camp staff counselor and at a church. This is the FIRST time in my life since I’ve started working that I’ve only had ONE job at a time.

9. I have had six oral surgeries including oral plastic surgery and have artificial teeth – no they do not come out....anymore.

10. I once had my belly button pierced, but it was ripped out when I was on a mission trip in Mexico and got caught on my work belt – needless to say I have a HUGE scar from the inability to wash it with very much clean water.

11. One of my favorite traveling memories was staying in a thatch-roof hut in Fiji with a hose on a hook for water/shower, no electricity and a mattress, one sheet and a mosquito net for a bed. We stayed up and watched the sunrise - ate fresh fruit and slept in a hammock until the sun went down - repeat.

12. I completed both of my bachelor's degrees in four years (total-not each) and just finished my master of divinity!

13. I’m a walking contradiction: I love to get my nails done, have shoe fetish, try to be stylish, wear make-up and was a sorority girl – but I also like to camp, backpack, watch sports, know how to change my own tire, use tools, will get those nails dirty or broken, and can be without luxuries like toilets and showers without complaint.

14. I secretly want to own my own motorcycle – I’ve never driven one, just ridden lots – I am honestly afraid the motorcycle would fall over if I tried to drive it

15. I can’t believe I’m admitting this but my nicknames include - Narna, Laurda Lou, Willobird, Blondie, LP and now recently Lala

16. I LOVE WINE (not out of a box or Arbor Mist either) – but I also like all kinds of beer and can handle a large variety of mixed drinks – No I’m not an alcoholic.

17. I once swam in a lake fed only by glaciers – it was so cold my fingers and toes shrank and I lost my toe rings - and a toe - ok not really - but that would have been a cooler fact ;)

18. I’m an ordained minister – meaning my friends no longer ask me to be IN their weddings – but perform them – which I’m happy to do ;)

19. I think it’s absolutely unacceptable that a man does not own jumper cables, cannot jump a car, cannot change a flat tire, does not know how to check ALL fluids or add fluids if necessary, won’t wash their own car by hand, or can’t handle taking their car to the shop without getting screwed over. My dad taught me all these things before I was allowed to get my license – a man should be able handle these things.

20. I love cold coffee – and it doesn’t have to be the sugary/creamy kind – but I only kind of like hot coffee.

21. I’ve visited 30 USA States, Mexico, Belize, New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, Poland, Great Britain, Greece and Turkey and want to max out my passport (is that possible?)

22. I love to watch sports (real sports – not poker or Nascar) – and Hooters is a great place to do so. I LOVE their wings and could care less about the women or why they are working there – or what other men/women think of me for liking that place. I go there for the food and the sports.

23. I was recently with my best friend at the moment that she died – it was the most surreal and divine experience I’ve ever had.

24. I am the youngest of three, a daddy’s girl, and have him wrapped around my pinky finger although I do my best to NOT take advantage of that.

25. I have moved 14 times since August of 2000 and am getting ready to make SOME kind of move at the end of February AND March.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Dear Brooke...

I've missed you the past couple of days... I went to a movie and I cried becasue it was about best friends being there for one another - and about knowing you better than you know yourself. You'd laugh at the sheer irony of the situation... but I sat down to watch ER last night... and I couldn't.... hospitals and people laying in hospital beds - it was too much for me last night. Good thing it was a re-run - otherwise I might have been mad at you. :) I go back and forth - there are some moments when I feel like you wouldn't want me to dwell on the situation - and that you'd want me to get off my ass and do my work. And then there's moments where I feel like if I trivialize our relationship - and try to make myself think, "we were just girlfriends..." then somehow it will make the pain easier. But it doesn't - and then I feel bad. Because you were my best friend. You knew me better than I knew myself and you helped me see myself - in the good and the bad light. And I miss you terribly...
You know - someone told me the other day, "You'll be a stronger person for having lived through this," to which I wanted to scream at them and tell them to "Shut up! I would rather be the weakest person on earth if it meant having Brooke back-than to be a 'strong person' for having lived through something like this." But I know what they meant - and I know plenty of people have said stupid things to you during your struggles. Heck - I might have said stupid things. But I just smiled politely and said thank you, because no one knows what to say in situations like this. There is never a completely right thing to say.
I'm getting back into the swing of things and going to work... It's helping - but it makes me feel bad. I don't want you to think I'm forgetting about you because I'm getting back into "the grind." I think about you often - about what you would be doing right now - and what you would say if I called you needing advice on a particular situation. And with that being said - you'd tell me to quit writing a blog and get back to work. :) Because that way we could hang out in the evening - since I'd gotten all my work done for the day... I love you babe - we all did and do and will... I know you're with us...somehow... I can feel you in my heart.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


On Thursday, January 22, 2009 my dear friend Mary Ericka Brooke Schneitman passed away after a long struggle with Marfan Syndrome.

Brooke and I met in August 2005 when I first came to seminary and we quickly became friends. Brooke suffered an aortic dissection just 33 days after I met her - but it was very apparent during that first episode that she was insanely loved and cared for by the entire seminary community. We kept in touch during her recovery and I was insanely excited when she returned to Lexington the summer of 2006 to complete her seminary degree.

Although Brooke continued to struggle with the "side effects" of Marfan Syndrome, Brooke continued to live a very full life. Brooke has been a daughter, a sister, and a friend. Brooke has known intense friendships, romantic relationships, a great family and has offered intense amounts of love to everyone she meet. Brooke not only graduated college with a ministry degree, but successfully graduated with a Master of Divinity degree and was ordained as a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Although I didn't know Brooke for very long if you're measuring in years - Brooke was most certainly one of my best friends. I could trust Brooke that I could always be myself, that she would be supportive and loving, but she also always managed to keep me honest with myself and grounded amid the chaos I call my life. She was an amazing friend, sister, counselor, angel and minister. She was also an amazing artist that was able to grasp the many emotions of life and make them tangible for many to see. She touched the lives of everyone she knew and will be missed by so many.

Brooke was an inspiration to me in many many ways. I find intense inspiration in the ways she approached her ministry and in the approach she took on life. I am most certainly a better person for having known her. I am inspired by her relationships and her friendships, and by her dedication and loyalty. She was passionate and focused, yet fun-loving and carefree all at the same time. Brooke's strength and resolve were unparalleled, and I only hope to keep alive the wonderful things that she taught so many. Brooke most certainly took the road less traveled, and while I'm sure it made all the difference for her - she also made an intense difference in the lives of those she met.

Brooke - I am so proud of you for being such an amazing woman - I have loved knowing you and I am so thankful that I got to be a part of your life, even for just a little while. I will miss you desperately - and I'm still struggling quite a bit with the idea that you won't be here. Your strength and passion for life will be remembered and honored. I know that you are at peace, and that you are no longer in pain - for which I am grateful. I love you Brooke - know that you were, are and will always be loved by many.