Friday, December 23, 2011


Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me. - Emily Dickinson

Each year during Advent we are asked to think of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love as we prepare the four weeks of before Christmas for God's presence in the stable on Christmas night.  Hope is the bird that perches in the soul, even among the storm.  While many storms may seem to take pause around Christmas, many are still there, and this year a small "storm" approached when Michael announced his resignation.  It is a "storm" that FCCBRLA has been through before, and will progress though again, but a small storm of the unexpected to say the least.

Hope is that thing that perches in the soul despite any storm, and no matter how big a storm may feel.  For FCC hope appeared each Sunday in Advent as FCCBRLA welcomed four new members, one on each of the four Sundays in Advent, AFTER Michael made his announcement.

This is great hope for our congregation.  People have asked me how I felt about the situation and my thoughts on our next steps, and I have continued to say that I am very hopeful for our congregation.  FCCBRLA is in a great place, and certainly in a far better place than 7 years ago.  We have some very spiritually driven leaders that are looking forward and discerning God's plan for this community of faith.  I am very hopeful for FCCBRLA and know that God has great things in store.

That hope was confirmed each Sunday in Advent as we had four new members join the church; all from different walks of life, and all for different reasons.  The fact that four new individuals have joined after an announcement that would change the future of the church, it speaks volumes to the congregation.  It speaks volumes to Michael's ministry over the last 7 years and where he has taken the church during his ministry.  It speaks volumes to the congregation that there are 4 individuals that trust in the COMMUNITY, and not in just one person, that the community is here to live out God's calling.  It speaks volumes to the hope that we can all have in our congregation, and to the places that we will go when we listen to the spirit.

Hope is the thing that perches in the soul and withstands the storms.  Hope is the thing that while delicate is also steadfast.  Hope is the risk that we are willing to endure because we have faith in the great things that are to come.

As we embrace hope in our final days of waiting for the Christ child, we can also embrace the great expectation we have for the future that will be birthed into our congregation in the months to come.  In the same way we have faith in the ways that Christ will change our hearts and lives when we open our hearts to him, we can have faith in the hope that we have for our future as a growing community of faith.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Holy Patience

It seems as if ever since Michael announced his resignation the season of Advent, this time of waiting has taken on a new meaning. I read my devotional a bit differently, I hear the sermon a bit differently. It is to be expected as major changes can always color our 'regular" experiences. So as a church, it is no wonder that we might approach this Advent season a bit differently than otherwise. Advent is the perfect season to anticipate revelation. As we await the coming of the Christ child, may we also be ready for God's inspiration for the next steps of our congregation.

In 2 Peter 3:8-15, one of our scripture passages from the Second Sunday of Advent, we are reminded that waiting can seem like an eternity. One day in the Lord’s time is like a thousand years. Scripture, however, is not the only place that we are reminded of this. Waiting in an airport for your flight to board, 5 minutes can seem like an eternity. Waiting for the doctor to call, half a day can feel like a lifetime. Waiting with a loved one as they take their last labored breaths, that last day can feel like infinity.

Waiting can mean that we neglect something for a time – as in, that matter can wait until the first of the year. Or, waiting can mean to be inactive until something expected happens – as in waiting for the bus to arrive. However, waiting can also mean to be available in readiness, especially in the unexpected. While we wait in the meantime, we have to rename the meantime so that we can focus on the “being available in readiness,” as opposed to being inactive, or neglectful in our waiting. This time of waiting does not have to be a time of despair, nor does it have to be a time of our frustration, rather, it should be one of God’s patience. God is not slow in providing for us, rather God is patient with us, asking us all to come to repentance, to come to a time of readiness. Neither is God neglectful in our time of waiting. On the contrary, God is present with us, consistent in attendance.

The unexpected will happen. Change will happen. The Bible and our own faith stories are full of examples of this. Rarely, if ever, have we seen a story of faith in which God says, “OK, everything shall remain the same and you shall live the rest of your life in monotony.” The challenge, however, is to be waiting in readiness for that unexpected, and for that change that we know will come. Scripture upon scripture tells us that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night, it will be unexpected, and it will be a drastic change. Whether we are talking about the coming of the Lord, or day to day unexpected and indiscriminate change, our challenge is to be ready in our waiting, not inactive or neglectful. This passage in 2 Peter tells us that God is patient with us as we figure out what it means to be ready. God’s slowness is not neglectful as we might be neglectful in our waiting, rather it is a holy patience as we prepare for the ways that God is acting in our life.

In the coming months we will face the unexpected, for change has already come. Michael’s announcement may have been unexpected, but change is not. We can be assured that more change will come and adjustments will be needed. However, we can also be assured that we will not be neglectful in our waiting, nor will we be inactive in this time of unknown. Just as we are called to be active in our time of waiting during Advent, and prepared and ready for the coming of the Lord, so are we called to be active and prepared for the changes that lie ahead of our congregation. There are sources of consistency that will carry us through this time of change. Our elders are dependable, our church leaders are reliable, our time of waiting will have consistency and we will be ready. God is consistent, and will be present with us. We can rely on these sources of consistency to carry us through this time of many unknowns.

As we practice waiting in readiness during the Advent season, I pray we will remember to wait in readiness for the next chapter in the life of FCCBRLA. As God demonstrates a holy patience with us, that we will be ready for the coming of the Lord, I pray we will also demonstrate that same holy patience, as we wait in readiness for wherever God will lead us next. God is constant. God is patient. God is ready. May our faith, and our congregation mirror God’s consistency, God’s patience and God’s readiness.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

What's Next?

In my family, my brother’s birthday is at the beginning of December, and then my niece's birthday is in the beginning of January. One Sunday afternoon my nieces and nephews were having a conversation with my mom about Jesus’ birthday and how we celebrate it on December 25, that it’s not just the day that they wait for Santa Claus. My niece got very upset at hearing about Jesus birthday, and when she was asked why, she indicated it was because she though her birthday was next after her daddy's!

We’re always looking to what is next. After one birthday in our family the nieces and nephews are asking “who’s birthday is next?” impatiently waiting for the next family dinner complete with birthday cake. From a young age we are looking to the future. It may not be the future that adults are thinking about when we consider savings and money-market accounts, advanced directives and wills, but in some form or fashion we are always looking ahead to the future.

The parable in Matthew 25 emphasizes this “habit” as it tells the story of 10 bridesmaids who are waiting on the groom to arrive. Nothing they can do while they are waiting will bring the groom any faster, and nothing they can do while they are waiting will assure that the groom will arrive. In that same manner, the future to which we are looking is also out of our control. We cannot make our ultimate future arrive here any faster, and there is little that we can do to make sure our ultimate future will happen. However, we are assured that the groom, who we see as Jesus, WILL arrive. We are told in many places in the Bible, and can trust that Jesus WILL come again – but we do not need to worry about this part of our future. As Christians, we know and can trust in Jesus’ coming into our lives; in this way we are able to concentrate on this time, the here and now. If I were having a conversation with my niece I would tell her that we can concentrate on THIS birthday, the birthday we are celebrating RIGHT now, because no matter what we do, we know that the next birthday in our family WILL come and it will come in exactly the same amount of time as it did last year.

There is a saying, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.” For Christians, the Good news is that “tomorrow” is not entirely a mystery. We know that God will guide us, that God will be with us and God will direct us in the ways that we are supposed to live until that day when Jesus WILL return. However, the end of that saying still rings true. Today is the present, a gift if you will, because we do not have to be concerned with the future. We are given the gift of being able to live in the here and now, to concentrate on the ways that our oil flasks are filled, that we may be ready for whatever tomorrow brings.

The 5 wise bridesmaids in the parable in Matthew 25 carried an extra oil flask with them in preparation for the time that the groom would eventually come, even though they had no idea when that would be. This begs these questions of us, "how are we ready for the moment when the groom will arrive? Will we have enough oil? Ho are we ready for the moment(s) that Christ will come into our lives? When Christ comes into our lives, are ready to welcome Him? Will we?

When seemingly everyday things present themselves as the Divine, are we ready? Are we ready, and see them as the Divine? Or do we pass it off as the mundane, and fail to see Christ in our life, here and now because we have not kept our oil filled, ready to welcome Christ?

The 5 wise bridesmaids are asked by the foolish bridesmaids if they can have some of their own oil. We might be shocked to read that the 5 wise bridesmaids so "NO! Go get your own!" But this is not because the 5 wise bridesmaids are mean and hope to cause pain by not sharing their resources, it is because they can't. They can't because their resources are not something that CAN be shared. Being ready is not only about stockpiling reserves to be ready for some future time. IN this case, bieng ready is being trained and creating habits that make you ready to welcome the groom into your life.

What are some habits that you have started that will help you be ready to welcome the groom in this parable, Jesus, into your life? You may be able to share your steps that you took in being prepared, but you cannot share the time and effort that spent in the past making yourself ready for this event. The same way that a long-distance runner cannot share their diligence in training for a race with someone who has only started running yesterday, we cannot share our own faithful diligence in preparing our hearts for Christ. A student may be able to share their homework answers with another student if they need the homework assignment completed, but when it comes test time, they cannot share that time and preparation they have put into studying for that exam and knowing that material. These 5 bridesmaids are not being greedy when they will not share - they simply cannot.

I have challenged myself to write more often on my blog.  This is something that no one else can do for me, and I cannot share anyone else's blog writing without doing it myself.  I go back and forth - sometimes wondering why I write, does anyone care, who is my audience, who wants to hear my random ramblings?  But then I have to remind myself that I need to write FOR ME for a few reasons - and if a blog is the way to do it, then why not?  I welcome the comments, the support, the questions, the help from a blog, so why not write here?

I struggle with my "voice" in the pulpit.  Most days of my life I wake up and think, "Really?  People WANT to hear what I have to say?  People want me to be their leader?"  Sometimes this thought comes from surprise, why would people want to listen to ME? And other days it comes from excitement - WOW, people REALLY want to know what I have to say! (Think Stuart Smalley from Saturday Night Live.)  If I'm ever going to become the preacher I want to be, or hope to be, I have to be ready for the Holy Spirit's movement - and that includes being ready to be that prophetic voice when I need to be, the pastoral voice when one is needed.  Those voices, and many more, are not going to develop themselves.  If I'm not ready with that part of my life, and my "voice," how will I be ready for the Spirit's movement in my ministry?

As we prepare for Christ's coming into our lives, as we ready our hearts for Advent and Christmas - what are ways that you cannot share with anyone else, that you have readied your heart for Christ in your life? What are ways that you can share that preparation - the enthusiasm behind that preparation and the love that you have for Christ? Whatever the case may be - I hope we can all be ready to receive Christ into our lives whenever he comes, even in the everyday, seemingly mundane, even in a baby, crying in a feeding trough.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Telling our Story

It seems as if everyone remembers where they were on that Tuesday morning 10 years ago. As we come to this 10 year anniversary of a day that has shaped our nation's history, it is difficult to not want to tell our part of the story. Sure, there are many of us who had no direct connection to New York, Washington D.C, Pennsylvania or any of the people who died on that day. For many of us the closest we come to firefighters and police-officers is simply our day to day interactions by seeing them on the road, or at an elementary school.

While many of us did not have a direct connection to the tragedy of that day, we all shared in the grief and the terror that overcame our country. How could it be that someone, or a group of people could attack our nation? We see wars and bombings in other parts of the world, but how could this be happening here? Even though I don't know many firefighters or police officers directly, and even though I was no where near New York, I still feel the connection to that city and what happened, the way many of us do.

It may sometimes feel as if our connection to the Spirit is the same. Sometimes our hearts are troubled and it feels as if we have no direct connection to God. It becomes hard to see God in the "everyday" and we become overwhelmed by the distance that seems to grow in our relationship with the Divine.

However, much like our experience with September 11, whenever we tell OUR story, we allow ourselves to become connected, again. The memories of September 11 come flooding back to me when I tell my story of where I was and what I was doing. In that same manner, our relationship is renewed and our Spirit restored when we re-tell OUR story of how we know God. When we tell our story of how God is working in OUR life, we give ourselves the chance to become even more connected to the Divine, each and every time we tell our story.

It may seem a stretch, or even a difficult connection, but I find it to be true. How often have we told stories about loved ones, or beloved memories of our past and those memories and people become alive again as we tell the story? Every time I tell the story of my grandfather and his infernal fight with the squirrels that eat his bird-feed, I can see him out there rigging up a new contraption to keep the squirrels out and the birds coming back. His spirit of hope, that the birds WILL come to his yard continues to live on and I am renewed by the memory of persistence and fun that my grandfather had in this endeavor. All it takes is for me to TELL the story.

Why don't we TELL our stories of the Divine more often? Are we afraid? Are we afraid of not being politically correct, or that our own story will be challenged? Are we unsure, as if someone could contradict our own experience with God? Are we unsure of our own experience, wondering if that miracle really was a miracle, or just a connection of perfect circumstances?

TELL YOUR STORY. Tell your story of 9/11. Tell your story of your grandfather, of your mother, of your child's 5th birthday party. Tell YOUR story and all it all to become alive in YOU.

Thursday, August 04, 2011


Recently an acquaintance of mine posted an article/blog about his son asking him one of life's hard questions. You can read it here. In a nut shell his son looked at him right before bed and stated,

"I'm not sure I believe this whole thing about God making everything in the universe."

Wow. What a tough question. I can only imagine as a parent how scary it is to have to "face" such questions that your kids will bring. I might not get those tough questions as much as parents might, but I sure do get some of them from the kiddos and youth at church. Moreover, every adult can also appreciate the good ol', "Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?" scenario from any child or youth.

At our church we offer for our children a ministry of worship called "Children Worship & Wonder," where children are allowed to ask these tough questions. And while it may seem like I'm simply standing on my soap box for a particular program we offer at church, really I'm MOST supportive of the theology and the explanation behind this program. But unfortunately it seems as if the only place "we" as a church are allowing this to happen is in our children's ministry. Wonderful for the kids, sad day for the adults that are missing out.

More often than not I hear parents of teenagers commenting on the difficult stage of when their children are asking questions. It appears as if the most difficult part of this "stage" is that parents themselves are not even comfortable with the questions or with their own answers. I don't mean this as a way to chastise the adults, rather as a commentary on the culture of our church, and the state of faith in our society. Are questions ever really SO difficult that we cannot work through them together in a community of faith? Why are questions so scary to many? Why can we not welcome those who question with open arms as we discover the answers together?

Questions make us vulnerable. When we are at an interview and we are asked a tough question, we are made vulnerable as we are forced to process the question and search quickly in our minds for the "right" answer. Questions that seem obvious are easy, and allow us to make declarative statements without vulnerability. "Is it raining?" "Yes" or "No." We can answer with certainty and assured or our own answer. However, questions that force us think a little more, to process and to determine our own answers seem scary, like worse than The Poltergeist scary.

What is it about the tough questions that leave us so scared? What is it about the tough questions that push us to whatever assurance we can cling to, even if it is not really what we believe? What is it about the questions that are so scary?

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Genesis 22:1 - 14 and Romans 6:12 - 23

Faith can feel like a catch-22.

Sometimes faith can feel like a no-win situation.

Sometimes faith can feel like you are simply stuck between a rock and a hard-place.

That doesn’t sound entirely uplifting, and it might sound surprising coming from the mouth of your preacher, but as a Christian, we can all relate with each other that sometimes faith can feel like a no win situation.

God IS good. God is good all the time. Faith itself is good, and it is good to have faith. It is good to have faith in God who is good to us, all the time. It is good to share faith with others. It is good to live in a community of faith that supports and loves you. But all this goodness that comes from faith does not mean faith is free from hardship or from suffering.

Faith can feel like a catch-22. Faith itself is good, but in faith you still experience heartbreak.

Without faith, you may be limited in your life experiences, you might not experience some of these painful emotions. But at the same time, without faith, you would not be able to work through these painful emotions or the difficult situations in life that are so hard to grasp.

Even this week, our church family witnessed a catch 22 of our faith life. Without our own individual faiths, we would not be a part of this faith community, this family that brings life and creates meaning for us. Without our own faith that has brought each of us here today, we would not know these individuals who sit here to the right and left of us, as brothers and sisters on our journey of faith. But at the same time, because of our faith, and because of this faith community to which we belong we were forced to face a shocking loss. We were forced to unexpectedly say goodbye to a beloved church member of 48 years. If we weren’t part of this church community we would not have had to say goodbye to Don, or to the many others who have gone before. But at the same time, we wouldn’t have met Don, or others, we wouldn’t have been influenced by their faith, and by their dedication to the church. If we weren’t a part of this faith community, we wouldn’t have had the positive experiences we share with one another, the joys and the blessings we celebrate together, and all the good that comes from sharing in this community of faith.

Without this faith community, we may not have had to face that loss. But simultaneously without a faith community, we may not be ABLE to face any loss.

Faith can feel like a catch 22.

More than just a phrase that has caught on, a phrase that eventually made its way into the dictionary, Catch 22 is actually a novel, written in 1961 by Joseph Heller.

The novel tells the story of Yossarian, a US Army Air Forces pilot, a bombardier that is trying save himself from the horrible experiences of war. The results of his plan to save himself from seeing combat is simply a no-win situation. Yossarian, as with all pilots, is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes the necessary formal request to the armed forces so that he might be relieved of flying these dangerous combat missions, the very act of him making that formal request proves that he is in fact quite sane and therefore ineligible to be excused from combat missions.

As the novel moves forward, the main character, Yossarian gets caught up in yet again another ‘no-win’ situation as he goes on to realize that Catch-22 as a policy does not actually exist. As a military rule, Catch-22 does not actually exist, but the powers-that-be claim it does and the world believes it does exist. But since it does not actually exist, there is no way it can be repealed, undone, overthrown or denounced. So again, Yossarian is in a no-win situation, a double-bind, a situation we would now call a catch-22.

Faith can sometimes feel like a catch-22.

Think of Abraham in our Genesis passage. He and his family are some of the first people to have faith in God, a god that is eternal, all-loving, all-knowing, providential, and a god that moves with them no matter where they are on this earth. That was not common in Abraham’s time as many people worshipped gods who were limited to where you were at that moment, only worshipping them in that place, and gods who were fickle and capricious. But Abraham had made a covenant with The Lord, with God Eternal, who protected Abraham and promised him great things, including descendents that would number the stars. God has asked Abraham to move from the land and the family that he knew to something completely unknown and beyond. But God has also provided for Abraham and Sarah every step of the way, protecting them in foreign countries and from foreign armies, and has even given them a son in their old age. Faith in God has been a good thing for Abraham. God has provided and has led Abraham in a fruitful life.

But now, God has provided Abraham with a son, a son whom God promised, even in Abraham and Sarah’s old age. And now God wants Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Abraham’s only hope at having descendents who would be greater in number than even the stars, God asks Abraham to offer him as a sacrifice.

Without his faith in God, Abraham would not have to make this difficult decision, he would not have to listen to God’s command to do the impossible; without his faith in God Abraham would not be in this situation where God has asked him to murder his own son as a sacrificial lamb. But at the same time, without his faith in God, Abraham might never have had a son, Abraham would still be Abram, living in the same country with his same family, still worshipping fickle, capricious and demanding gods who were restricted to only certain locations.

A catch 22.

It is an intense catch 22, certainly a no-win situation. And while most of us cannot say that we have been put in a situation like Abraham’s, many of us have felt stuck in a no-win situation.

You can’t get a job without work experience, and you can’t gain experience without first getting a job.

You can’t get a loan without a credit history, but you build a credit history by borrowing and paying back money on credit.

In order to get a picture ID to prove your identity, you must first present picture identification in order to establish your identity.

Even faith can feel like a catch-22.

It can feel like a no-win situation.

It can feel like you are simply stuck between a rock and a hard-place.

In our Romans passage this morning Paul speaks to the Roman church reminding them that in Christ, followers of Jesus are no longer slaves to sin, but we ought to be slaves to righteousness. We are freed from one type of bondage, from sin, but we are enslaved again because of that freedom from sin.

Now when we hear the word slavery and enslavement the word can be a bit confusing and uncomfortable. We hear the word slave, or enslaved, eight (8) different times, and each time we hear it, it’s a little more uncomfortable. Whether we’re thinking of the slavery that plagued and tore apart our own nation for over 150 years, or the modern day slavery we hear about in which women and children are forced into degrading and corrupt lifestyles in order to survive, hearing Paul suggest that WE live lives of slavery does not bring pleasant feelings.

Even if we aren’t thinking of slavery in the sense of one person “owning” another, but we think of the freedom that is lost in slavery, we still cringe. We live in a day and age where we want so many things without restriction. We want cell phone plans and health care providers without restrictions. We get frustrated when airlines restrict the number of bags we can take on an airplane. Even if we might not need more than what we’re allowed, we don’t want to be restricted. We want an unlimited number of movies to watch through Netflix, and we don’t’ even want to be limited by time constraints or schedules when watching TV. We DVR our favorite shows so we can watch them on a different night and fast forward through the commercials. We do not want a master over any part of our lives.

And when we must accept some restriction we still push the boundaries of these restrictions at least just a little bit. We set the cruise control just 2 or 3 miles over the speed limit and we eat just one more piece of chocolate, or cut the work out on the elliptical by just 30 seconds, because its close enough to 30 minutes, isn’t it? When a mother tells her child it’s time for bed, he always wants “just five more minutes,” or the daughter pushes her curfew, arriving home just 3 minutes past midnight insisting that it is not a big deal because it was close enough.

Whether they are restrictions place on us by an institution, another person or even the government, we don’t like the idea of surrendering even a small part of our lives, of our freedom to the control of another. And if we have trouble surrendering even just a part, we certainly can’t imagine surrendering our entire life and all of our life’s decisions to another person, being, or institution. We want to be in charge of our own choices and our own lives. While we are thankful for our freedom from sin in Christ’s resurrection, how can Paul honestly suggest that we again should be enslaved by anything. Slavery to sin is a horrible thing, we don’t want to be slaves to sin, but we really just don’t want to be enslaved to ANYTHING. Our freedom in Christ should allow us to make our own decisions, allow us to make our own priorities and guide our own footsteps. Sure, we want those decisions, priorities and footsteps to be in the right direction, following God’s will, but we should be free to do those on our own, and not enslaved, without choice, to anything or anyone else. Shouldn’t we?

There was a teenage boy, who after graduating from high school, was told by his parents that he would no longer have a curfew. He was going away to college in the fall, and they wanted him to adjust to his new responsibility.

So after the first night that they told him of his new freedom, he stayed out until 2:00am. Like most parents, neither slept until they heard him come through the door, but they did not say a word as he walked down the hall, nor did they say anything the next morning at breakfast. They had given him their word: he was free from his former curfew.

The next night their son stayed out until 4:00am. The parents became concerned at how late it was and considered calling his friends, but they did not. They kept their word and allowed him his freedom from a curfew.

The third night it was 6:00am before he arrived home.

Now, you see, the son had a summer job that started at 8:00am, and that morning at breakfast, he looked almost as exhausted as his parents did from all his late nights. But no one said anything.

Finally, on the fourth night, their son came directly home from work and after supper he went straight to bed. And after that, he actually kept reasonable hours, coming in early enough that he could get a good night’s sleep before work, and staying out later only on the weekends. But even then it wasn’t the early hours of the morning, and he would call his parents if he were going to be out much later than midnight.

It seems as if the young man thought he was completely free when his parents lifted his curfew, initially thinking freedom meant complete liberty from any former restraints. He even tested his parents to see if they would keep their word about not calling and not asking him to come in a bit earlier to make sure his new found freedom was in fact complete freedom.

But in testing his parents he found a catch-22. Even though he was free and able to test that new freedom from a curfew, he found himself bound to something else. He discovered the limits of his own body and its inability to function after missing so much sleep. He learned that absolute freedom doesn’t actually exist. (i)

We are never absolutely or completely free. We are always enslaved to certain limits, certain powers, and even to our own allegiances.

Even if we’re not thinking about slavery in the sense of 1800’s America, we are still enslaved to certain things in our lives. For many of us, even something as simple as leaving your cell phone at home when you head to work, or having to take your computer into the shop where you are without email, we realize how enslaved we are to technology and our ability to be in touch with anyone and everyone at a moment’s notice.

I have several friends who are slaves to fashion. Every season there is a new set of requirements, new clothing, new shoes and new accessories to be purchased, new trends that must be adopted. Most of the time they look fabulous, and I’m even a bit jealous. But sometimes they look ridiculous and even just plain uncomfortable. Regardless, they have pledged their allegiance to the fashion world, are servants to the seasons, and they take their orders from all the latest fashion magazines and websites. (ii)

One author says of slavery, “If you want to know who your master is, pay attention to what occupies your thoughts and how you spend your money.” (iii)

In that case, many of us are slaves to our family, and to our loved ones, or slaves to providing a home and a safe upbringing for our children. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, to want to provide for your family or your children, it reminds us that we are all serving something or someone. We all have a master that holds dominion over our lives, regardless of how much freedom we perceive or of how philanthropic our reasons are. We all have a master.

There is a bluegrass band called Mumford and Sons, and in one of their songs they sing the lyrics, “in these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die, where you invest your love, you invest your life.”

We will die someday, and in that sense, we are all enslaved to mother-nature, but we have a choice about where we are investing our love now, while we are living. Where are you investing your love? Are you investing your love in the desire to be free?

Are you so dead-set on “having freedom” and investing your love in ways that you can be free, that you have in fact enslaved yourself to yet another thing.

We all struggle with the idea of having any sort of restriction place on us. Slavery or servanthood, any sort of restriction or any sort of limit place on our own personal freedom and independence is uncomfortable. And while faith can sometimes feel like a catch-22, this is NOT one of those situations.

Because while we want to be free, and not enslaved to a life of sin, when we surrender ourselves to God, we are not enslaved without reason, rather we are liberated. Enslaving ourselves to God is a loyalty that will not only liberate us but give us life. God is on our side and has our best interests at heart. If we devote ourselves to God, if we commit ourselves to servanthood of Christ and God’s will, then God WILL lead us to abundant life.

When I was younger I had a creative way of keeping myself out of trouble. I was not without some trouble, but I did have a way to keep myself out of any major trouble. If a friend would call and ask me to do something that I knew was questionable, or something I knew would not be in my best interest I needed a way that would allow me to say no without losing the respect of my peers. So I would remind my friends that I needed to ask my parent’s permission, and when I went to them to ask I would tell them, “You need to say no.” I even had a look to give my parents when I wanted them to say no. And they would, so that way I could go to my friends and tell them, “Sorry, my parents said I can’t come.”

Surrendering control to my parents allowed me to do the right thing without a struggle.

And this is what Paul is trying to tell us about our salvation. God IS on our side, and if we just surrender control to God, if we allow ourselves to be enslaved to God, and to nothing else, God will lead us to eternal and abundant life. (iv)

For we are no longer slaves to sin, so we should therefore be slaves to righteousness in the life of Christ.

Christ died on the cross, and after three days rose again so that we would no longer be slaves to sin, we would no longer be subject to the payments for our sin. We are no longer subject to that transaction, we are no longer bound to a life that leads toward death because of our sins, rather because of Jesus we are free to live a life enslaved to God that leads to eternal life with God in Christ. And for this reason, we celebrate servanthood every time we worship.


(i)Thomas H. Troeger “Romans 6:12-23” New Proclamation, Series A, 1999, 132.
(ii)Shawnthea Monroe “Romans 6:12-23 Pastoral Perspective” Feasting on the Word Year A, Volume 3, 2011, 186.
(iii)Monroe, 184.
(iv)Monroe, 184.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Mighty Mississippi

First I want to say thank you! Way to make a girl feel loved! Several people have called/emailed/texted me and asked me if I, or my church members, will be affected by the swelling Mississippi River. I am so thankful for friends and family that have shown concern as they have watched the news and remembered me and my "southern family"!

I am happy to report that I do not believe I will be affected, nor will the majority of my church members. I've mainly been getting my news from local sources, especially a local news channel, WBRZ, that has a web page dedicated solely to "The River Watch". I've heard from some that a couple of national news agencies have reported that Baton Rouge is flooding - which is not true. Yet. The Mississippi River AT Baton Rouge is very high - but the city is not flooding. At any rate, local news seems to be the best right now.

Having been through this type of situation several times throughout history, this part of the country is well versed in plans that account for severe rains north of here. You have to remember that the Mississippi drains all or parts of over 30 states and is fed by the Ohio, Minnesota, Missouri, Arkansas, Red Rivers as well as many others. So this isn't their first time at the rodeo. :)

You can read more about it on the links I've provided, but the basic plan is to put into use two different spillways that will relieve the Mississippi's banks and hopefully prevent any major flooding of the Baton Rouge (or New Orleans). The Bonnet Carre Spillway was opened on Monday which directs water into Lake Ponchartrain. 100% of the Bonnet Carre Spillway's capacity will be used. There is another one, the Morganza Spillway that is supposed to be opened sometime this week. That is a bigger deal because this spillway will flood homes and businesses to some degree. The consolation is that it will save the majority of houses, urban areas and highly populated areas (like Louisiana State Uuniversity's Campus). The plan as of now is to only open 50% of the Morganza Spillway. While it is devastating that many people will have damaged homes and camps (think lake house for all you non-LA residents), we are told this is the best option. This flood control system was put into place sometime after the 1927 flood, so people who have built homes or camps in this area should know that this was a possibility at some point and time. People that have homes in this area also generally build homes on stilts or even homes that can float. The authorities are providing sandbags to residents who may be affected, as well as urging other residents in harms way to do a "self-evacuation." People are preparing for this and are doing their best to get ready. I know many people who have already taken off work to go to their camps (2nd homes) to save what they can so its only the structure itself that is lost.

Bottom line, is that I should not be affected. My house sits on higher ground (if you can actually have that in Louisiana) and is not terribly close to the river. However, downtown Baton Rouge is on low ground and ON the river so downtown is certainly at risk. There are sandbags on the levee down there and the hope is that by using these spillways it will prevent any major flooding in the Baton Rouge urban area. Check out this map that will show you where the waters SHOULD go after the Morganza spillway is opened. Downtown Baton Rouge is underneath the bottom left box labeled "Disclaimer." My house and the church are somewhere under the rest of that white box.

Thanks again for your concern - I'll be sure to post more if there is anything new that comes up!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Dear Brooke,

I miss you a lot...

I still haven't moments in my days where I think... "I need to tell this to Brooke!"

That makes me feel better for the other days I fear I am forgetting you.

You were an amazing friend... so no matter what I will always love you.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Recently I have read several articles, blogs and other various postings all surrounding an article that was published in the February edition of Marie Claire magazine. The initial article chronicles the life of one particular female pastor, Rev. Wren Miller, who serves a 3000+ member United Methodist congregation in Huntsville, Alabama. Miller is very open and honest about her dating and sex life in this article which has caused quite a bit of commotion. She talks about having had sex prior to answering her call to ministry but since making a commitment to abstinence until marriage, whether or not oral sex counts as sex (her answer is yes), orgasms and even masturbation. All these key words (which may have given you goose bumps out of embarrassment or made you flushed in the face at just thinking of them) seem to be what most people are talking about in all their articles and blog posts. A minister using those words and talking openly about sex is obviously very taboo.

One man defends her “over-sharing” by asking us to remember that sexuality is not forgotten in the Bible, referencing Song of Songs, and to focus not on the explicit nature of some of her sharing, but to look at the feeling of “alienation” that permeates the article. Rather than judging we should be praying for her and all those who feel alienated.

Several clergy are bothered by her use of the word career – but without knowing the context of the article, (is it verbatim, did she know this much of the interview would be shared, how much freedom was the author given in order to write the article vs. printing an interview, etc.) I think that’s just semantics. When I’m talking about my profession (calling) with other non-clergy friends very few of them care about my career being a “calling” and we still find common ground in talking about our vocations. There are certain aspects of being a late twenty/early thirty-something who is fairly new to any career path that are universal to any career path. If we want to remain humble in our calls to ordained ministry we need to treat others and their calls to their vocations respectfully. Aren’t we ALL called to do SOMETHING, and some of us are just lucky that we get to participate in our calling as opposed to working only for the paycheck? Some people are CALLED to be teachers, but you never hear anyone in an uproar if they refer to their 7-4, M-F schedule as a “job” or as a “career.”

Another blog talks about this woman’s violation of the privacy of a parishioner by talking about the church member’s son and how she must have never had any sort of media training (seriously – what is media training? Maybe it’s because Disciples are so small, but I don’t remember any “media training” in seminary). Her conclusion however is that all of these comments, good or horrifically bad were meant as way to “humanize” the female clergy. She says, “Do you hear me young’uns? Learn this fast and learn it well: over-sharing to this extent is not the way to achieve our shared goal of humanizing the clergy. What you are doing by providing salacious details on your sex life to the media is not empowering yourself or making clergy or Christian life more hip and relevant.”

While I agree with this last blogger about the apparent lack of confidentiality concerning a church member’s son I think even she is missing the point a little. No I don’t want to come across high and mighty that I have all the answers, but I don’t see any of them discussing the REAL problem here.

To be honest? Being a dating, single, female minister – it just plain sucks. Sure there are high points now and then, but over-all? It blows.

I’ve been asked all kinds of VERY personal questions about my own dating and sex life by both men and women, at points in "relationships" that its just not yet appropriate (like 5 minutes after you met me). I’ve met the ultra-conservative men that see a “woman of God” but not a “woman of the cloth” and think that I’ll miraculously want to quit my job, become submissive and just make babies. I’ve met men that simply start ignoring me or walk away when I tell them what I do for a living, those that tell me all the reasons they don't approve of organized religion (as if they'll change my mind?), those that feel the need to start confessing (notice I'm not Catholic) and I’ve even met some really creepy men that see me as some new conquest that might provide them with an extra holy “notch,” that’s hard to find, like the kind of creepy excited men get when they “find” a virgin. (Are we being hunted?) I’m now able to joke and laugh about some of these crazy experiences, but they are all symptoms of a larger problem - the "de-humanization" of clergy.

Viewing clergy as not human, as some sort of superhuman that is above humanity is the central thread I see being discussed in all of these blogs/articles/comments, but the issue that isn't actually being addressed. How are clergy supposed to be human and vulnerable so that we know what kind of experiences our parishioners are going through, yet we are supposed to do this without doing anything wrong (living up to EVERYONE'S idea of "wrong")? How are we supposed to be a moral compass, (According to Rev. Wil Willimon in his book Calling and Character, “morality comes as a gracious by-product of being attached to something greater than ourselves, of being owned, claimed, commandeered for larger purposes.”) if we aren’t accepting that clergy are owned, claimed and commandeered by something greater than ourselves, by a being that is so much more than we can imagine that we are also accepted and loved as imperfect as we all are. We are called to preach love of the sinner and love of the outsider, the tax-collector, the prostitute, but we are supposed to have lived a perfect life never having known regret, hurt, heart-break, loss or embarrassment and the love that comes from God even in spite of these emotions we throw on ourselves? How are clergy supposed to be human, to lead humanity in our desire to live as the human beings God has called us to be, if we are not allowed to fully BE human, rather superhuman?

Being human means living through an innumerable measure of experiences, emotions, thoughts and feelings, which for most human beings also includes sex.

God wants us as human beings to share all these experiences in our life with God. Being a Christian means giving your WHOLE self to God, not just the parts you’re confident of or certain of. When we're uncertain about the superhuman that we want our clergy to be because we don't want them to talk about sex (or have sex for that matter), we're also denying all human beings the freedom of sharing that part of their life with God.

I have no scientific evidence or any sort of study to back this up, but I would be willing to guess that "the average" human being does not share their own sexual life with God.  I'd be willing to bet that the average person does not ask God questions or pray to God about their sexual exploits, interests, turn-ons, orgasms, etc., and therefore we certainly can't allow our clergy to be comfortable with going to God about these topics. (No, shouting "Oh God," does not actually count unless you are actually addressing God in the middle of your exploits.) Clergy are asked to be above average expectations in action, attitude and decorum as "role models for the church, without separation between public and private, social and personal behavior…" Yet, when clergy are willing to share their private life both with God and with their congregation (or with a magazine) they are criticized for discussing things that "we just don't discuss."  This pastor has not separated her public and private life, her social and personal behavior. She's being true to who she is as a human being, a child of God. She's willing to share all of herself with God, even the parts that seem embarrassing or seemingly taboo, and that's scary. She's willing to share her conversation about masturbation, oral sex and orgasm with God, and with all to see, and being that human, not superhuman, is just down right scary. 

I hope I'm that comfortable to share all of myself with God, all the ugly parts and all the parts I'm sure of, all the one's I'm embarrassed about, and all the parts that do not need embarrassment, but have been covered under society's veil for so long.  Clergy need to be sharing all of their own selves with God as we hope that our church members will share all of their own selves with God.

As another blogger states, "Pastors should be talking with people about how God is present in all facets of our lives.  If we're not talking frankly and authentically about sex, we're failing those in our care."  If we are not sharing all of our own humanity with God, we are failing at our calling.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

"Single, Saved, and Sexin’: The Gospel of Gettin’ Your Freak On"

This is a great article.  I appreciate her honesty and her candid look at the African American church, expectations of women, of Christians and the changing landscape of marriage, commitment and relationships after 25.  I haven't decided if I agree with ALL of her conclusions, but I agree with all of the feelings she expresses.  What an amazing piece to share...

Single, Saved, and Sexin’: The Gospel of Gettin’ Your Freak On

Like most conservative Christian folks, I grew up believing, that sex was reserved for marriage. For years my sexual experiences were laden with guilt. I routinely went years at a time with no sexual contact, until I would finally, in a fit of weakness give in to my urges. I was caught in a continual cycle of self-denial, self-indulgence, guilt, confession, rinse and repeat, topped off by five years of celibacy. I was treating sex as if it were a bad habit that I desperately needed to break.

All of that is a prelude to a confession: I’m single. I’m saved (as in born-again Christian). And I have sex. Unapologetically.

At my former church, I spent at least one Friday a month, hanging with the dynamic, beautiful, thoughtful, educated sisters of faith who did ministry work. These women were not stuffy; they were totally real: about how lonely it is without someone; about how they never saw themselves at 35 or 40 still being alone with no prospects; about how frustrating the prospect of perpetual celibacy is. But I respect these women because they decided that “doing it God’s way is best,” even if that means an indefinite period of celibacy. And so inevitably there would be the roll call of who had been celibate the longest. 5 years, 10 years, etc… And because these women believed strongly in the Bible as a rule book, no extramarital expressions of sexuality are permitted, not even masturbation.

I, however, have had a long-standing off-again/on-again relationship with more than one B.O.B. (battery-operated boyfriend). And I simply don’t believe that someone else should get to touch my clitoris when I don’t.

So while I love these women and while I believe we love the same God, I do not love their sexual ethics. I do not think one can live and thrive in them. For me, Christianity is too much about grace, too much about freedom to engender the continual guilt, frustration, and anxiety, which I continually confronted merely for expressing my sexual selfhood. Surely there must be a better way.

But when it comes to the sex life of the single Christian, it’s hard to take the Bible as the gospel truth, because for us, their ain’t no good news in it. Song of Solomon’s erotic imagery notwithstanding, no scriptural loopholes permitting me to get my much-needed freak on presented themselves.

But a loophole is not what I needed. I needed a bigger view of God.

For so many women, the biggest faith struggle of their life has been “believing God for a mate.” Year after year, these women serve, pray, and live chaste, believing that God just requires more faith, or alternately, that God is still working on them. And the Black church, in its refusal to consider the impact of over-incarceration, poor education, underemployent, violence, and AIDS, on Black families and heterosexual Black marriages, only makes it worse by reinforcing Black women’s feelings of personal and relational inadequacy. The Church’s parochial sexual politics and double standards have made it even harder for Black women to find the kinds of relationships they so desperately seek. My sister friends want dudes who are in church often, “know the Word,” love God, and are willing to court them for as long as it takes with little to no physical contact. Most preachers don’t adhere to that standard, and while there are some men who would, there are many many, legitimately good brothers who won’t. Our churches rarely even preach celibacy to men.

So when I recognized the way social conditions and religious guilt shaped my options for partnering, I began to ask different questions about my relationship to God, to the Bible, and to faith. Because my friends were following the rules, to a tee, and yet the rewards elude(d) them.

I don’t want the good stuff, sexual or otherwise, to elude me while I’m over here dutifully following the rules, so I’ve actively and painfully gone in search of a better way, filled with life affirming principles and enough grace to let me enjoy my life and some good sex, too. ‘Cause frankly, now that I’m over 30, getting some, getting it good, and getting it on a regular basis is non-negotiable.

I refuse any longer to live a fear-driven life, based upon a set of rules that mete out punishment and reward based on how well I perform. I think Jesus came to free us from performance driven living. As women, we are no stranger to performance driven lives, which often leave us empty and unfulfilled as we try to be all things to all people. And then we turn around and try to do this same thing in our faith, and it isn’t working. For Black women who are already forced to be superhuman in every other aspect of the world, our faith space, personal and communal, can only be liberatory when it permits us to be fully human, sexuality and all.

If we choose to be honest and intentional, we can build life-affirming intimate relationships, both inside and outside of marriage. But our conservatism has stripped women of the right to be intentional about engaging and enjoying their sexuality, even causing some women to avoid condoms and birth control, so they don’t have to acknowledge their choices. AIDS is real, fam.

Sex is a form of creative power. And it is in the literal fact of its creative aspects that we feel alive, fully human, and connected. I think God wants nothing less than this for us, and that requires regular, intimate connections of bodies, or at the very least a very regular, intentional and unapologetic intimate connection with our own body.

So sex is back on the table for me in an emotionally safe intimate connection with another person. Because marriage or no, I am clear about this one thing: celibacy is not for me. I need connection. I need intimacy. I need sex. Period.

That’s why I’m unapologetically single, saved, and sexin’. 

You can find the original blog by clicking here.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Reverend's 30 x 30

30% of my body weight by the time I'm 30.  May 26, 2012 here I come.
I actually started on this kick two days ago - Sunday, January 2, 2011.  I've decided, as cliche as it may sounds to drop 30% of my body weight by the time I'm 30 years old.  This gives me 17 months to drop 75 pounds.  That will put me at about one pound a week which I think is very doable.
 I feel a bit cliche for starting a "diet" right after the NY - because this is not some NY resolution that I intend to forget about in a few months.  I NEED this.  I NEED to be healthier.  Losing 75 pounds still puts me above my "ideal" weight according to lots of information I've found online concerning my height and age - but 75 pounds lighter than I am now sounds ideal to me!  If I make more - great!  If I make less, it better only be by about 2 pounds!  I can keep going after 30 (30% or 30 years) - but 30 x 30 is my goal.
I'm also not so jazzed about putting all this info on the web, my current weight, my starting weight, my activities, etc.  I'm all for the tracking part - but the making it public part is hard.  Being held accountable is hard.  Tough love is hard.  Admitting to others that you've let yourself go and now you're at weight XXX is hard.  But I know I won't do this on my own unless someone else is keeping me accountable.  
I've sought out a few accountability partners and things are looking up - not so bad.  One friend, E, has known me for years, especially when I was thinner, and is getting in shape for her wedding in April.  Another friend, H, has only known me for about a year - all around my current weight, and is getting in shape for a cruise she'll be taking also in the spring.  So I have support - we just need to be accountable and I hope they'll call me out when I'm acting really dumb about this all!
I don't regret my life experiences, but I do regret my food choices throughout the years.  I don't regret the drinks out with friends, but was that one more drink really necessary?  I don't regret a fabulous meal at a restaurant in a foreign country - but what could I have eaten instead?  I don't regret the downtime with loved ones watching a movie, but was the buttery popcorn really necessary - or the lack of physical activity later?  I don't regret - but I learn from...  
Here's to learning from THIS experience.
Starting weight:  255.8
Today's weight: 255.6
Goal: 180.0