Monday, December 31, 2007

A wedding, A Movie A Book

A busy, busy time.
First the wedding: on Friday of Harv and Lisa. We went back to NW Ohio and to my old church where I officiated at the wedding. I had not been in the sanctuary for at least two years and it was familiar and strange at the same time to be there. I had pastored at that church for 13 years. It was the place where I was married, Marnie was married, Audrey was ordained.
It was also where we did Sue Truex's memorial service. It seemed good to be there for Lisa's wedding.

It was a second marriage for both Lisa and Harv. And simple. The only different part of it was that Lisa had selected the song "At Last" for the walk down the aisle. Harv did not know about it. So the music started with the words: "At last my love has come along, my loneliness is ended and life is like a song." The tears started immediately with Harv. It all seemed so right. A second marriage always has pain in the background - as the couple has lived through the end of the first marriage. But it is love in the foreground and the hope of new beginnings as this commitment is made. I am so glad they are now married. And blessed to get the front rowseat to all of it!!

The movie: Yesterday Chuck and I saw "No Country for Old Men" Wow! What a movie. I have been a Coen brothers fan ever since "Raising Arizone" - one of the few movies that I actually own. I have liked their style, humor, story telling and messages in the midst of the story. This movie is spare and tense and violent and profound. It is basically about three men whose lives have intersected when the Llewellyn (what a name!) stumbles on a death scene of drug dealers and comes away with $2 million in cash. Then he is pursued by a sociopath who will do anything to get the money and the near retirement sheriff (old man) Tommy Lee Jones
who on the path of truth and justice. The story itself is powerful but the themes behind it stay with me.

I preached Sunday on the last chapter of revelation - which was basically about LIVING in the waiting time before the second coming. And part of that is living in the awareness that we are not in paradise yet - we live in the midst of evil - anti God - powers and principalities. We need to recognize that always. And this movie had an embodiment of that - the relentlessness and the many faces of evil. What really spoke to me was the character of the Sheriff and his weariness with it all. He sees it and works against it - and finally gives up and retires because it is no country for old men. I could identify with that. Maybe it is because I need a vacation after the busyness of Christmas? (in 2 weeks!!)

A Book: Last night I finally started reading "Eat, Pray, Love." Susan sent it to me for Christmas and I have heard from many women how wonderful it is. And it is ....and I love that Liz has a best friend Susan - just like me. I am only now in the part about Italy.

But what has already struck me is when she writes about the first time she desperately prayed to God and "heard the voice." I loved it. I have heard the voice over the years and it is just as she said. When you hear the voice you always wonder whether it is you speaking to you or God or your authentic self. Blah! Blah Blah. But I will say I have learned to trust the voice. I remember hearing the voice speak to me when I was pregnant with Audrey and wondering what I was supposed to do with my life. And the voice told me for now it was to take care of my kids. I remember being in a sanctuary in Zanesvile and hearing the voice tell me to slow down. And lately I have been hearing the voice say to me - unmistakeably - "Trust me"

the question I have about me - is why I don't spend more time listening for the voice.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


It is over and it went to fast this year!
I had Sunday worship and the next day Christmas eve service and the next day Christmas itself with all the girls, grandkids, Dawn and Jason and Melanie over.
And now, we are getting ready to go to NW Ohio for one more Christmas with Lisa and kids and then Friday the wedding between Lisa and Harve.

The highlights -
Christmas Eve service that was packed. It made me feel so good to see so many people coming together to worship and to be together. We had cookies and punch afterward and people were just happy to be there.

Christmas day Chuck and I cleaned the house getting ready for everyone to come in the afternoon. And even that was pleasant for just the 2 of us. We also watched the movie "The Namesake". Wonderful. About an Indian couple and their marriage and life in America and their son Gogol. Gogol did not seem to understand or appreciate his family and their sacrifice for him until his father died suddenly. There was so much in the movie and this morning I watched some of the background and just marvel at the creativity of the director and everyone who put it together.

Christmas afternoon everyone came and it was bedlam but also wonderful. When everyone comes I think of my house as "shrinking." The kids were more interested in playing together than in opening gifts. They had done that in the morning and last night. Enough already.
Jax was very happy whopping people with wrapping paper tubes. But it was great. I would have moments of seeing conversations between adults and kids and feel blessed by the whole thing.

We snacked all afternoon and ate dinner and afterwards, of course, played games. Audrey got a game "chuzzle" in which you make something with modeling clay. That is the kind of thing I think I hate, but I actually liked it. And after that we played trivial pursuit, which I have not done in years - but with Dawn and Kacey on one team and Audrey and I on the other (and Jason helping everybody) it was a good and fun game and I think we actually won. (not that I am competitive :)

Altogether a great holiday and a blessing to me to be able to get everyone in one space with a minimal amount of tension.

This was the first time in years that I was with the girls on 'christmas - usually we do it on another day. And usually I go to a movie on Christmas day. But this year I went to the movie the next day - (today!) and saw JUNO - it was so good. I was touched by so much in it that I found myself in tears or near tears several times. The ads for this movie make you think that it is a sit com kind of thing - but actually the jokes cover a lot of hurt within this young pregnant teenage. I also like the music behind the story. It all was very true to life - and the dfficulty of being a teenager and being married and just living.
I recommend it !

Friday, December 21, 2007

God Grew Tired of Us

God Grew Tired of Us is a documentary following some of the lost boys of the Sudan as they came into America to make a new life.
We showed the Lost Boys of the Sudan in our "Reel Faith" a couple of months ago - and this was a similar documentary. It is powerful as we see the ordeal of their life in Africa - having parents killed and walking literally a thousand miles to a refugee camp in Kenya. They were absolutely
emaciated when they got to the refugee camp. They made a life there for years but there was no future but there was a family of men and boys that had been created over the years.

You saw their amazement of moving from third world into the first world as they learned about refrigerators and toilets and frozen foods. And you could see the loneliness and disconnection for them as they came into this completely different culture.

And I sit and watch all of this in wonder .....wondering about the disproportionate life on this earth. How is it that I sit comfortably in my family room wrting this on a laptop computer and others are born into poverty, oppression, warfare? I cannot ever make sense of this. We have this mythology of the "self made person" in our country - but it is so simplistic. I have always like the line that Ann Richards said about George Bush - he was born on third base and thought he hit a triple. But the truth is that this world is so out of balance that there are people who are born miles away from the game itself.

I worship and have experienced the presence of the God of love in my life. And like religious and non religious people, I cannot understand how we have become a world of such stark contrasts. And what is my role and my responsibility to others.

And ....I am writing this at Christmas as I am buying stuff for people who don't need it as they are buying stuff for me. And.....I am writing this right after our church had a rummage sale....and we get o see all the material things that are usable but not wanted because they are outdated or outgrown. Or we just get tired of it all. And....I am writing this after booking a cruise this next month.l

But what can be more irritating than a person who lives in this materialistic world and says "I am so conflicted" but keeps buying into the values and buying the products. That is me and I imagine that is most of us. (Well, I know there are people who don't buy presents for each other - they make donations to causes in their name - which I also find irritating. Maybe I should talk to my spiritual director about that!) Does God grow tired of us?

But make no mistake - I love Christmas but I struggle. With all of it. Watching a movie like this forces me into self examination, which I know is needed. We live in a city of immigrants - and this movie gave a face to those who are trying to make a life here. And my faith tells me that God wants me to do something more. May I recognize the call in whatever form it takes.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


My friend Mary came to Columbus yesterday. She is going to direct "Grandparents Camp" again this summer and I am going to help her.

She and I have been friends for over 15 years - really I always say ever since I stayed at her house when she had a concussion from walking her dogs on her bike! I have always felt like her big sis - we were ministers together serving hcurches 5 miles apart from each other. I am 10 years older than her. Mary has great musical gifts and is very creative and fun to be with. I can be as silly with her as with anyone else. We have been blessed to be together in Chautauque the last few years and it is fun, fun, fun for me.

Now I am in Columbus and she is serving a church part time in Oregon Ohio in NW Ohio. She has had a passion since she was a teenage to go to Burma and in the past few years has been able to go there. She has gone to a refugee camp in Thailand and taught at a seminary in the refugee camp with the Karin people. She has such a heart for this ministry. She has gone there at financial and physical risk to herself. She went back again this fall in September for 4 weeks.
I honestly don't know how she can afford to do this - but she does. And she raises money for the Karin people and sends it there in addition to her own trips.

As I listened to her talk so matter of factly about this I thought she is the big sister teaching me what it is to listen to God's call and to follow - regardless of the cost.

I admire her so much.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


I have just returned from the Library where I am helping kids with homework. And boy, do I feel like I am stupid - or something!
And I find myself like a kid wondering why kids need to learn the things they are being taught.
First there was a young man who was from Africa who has a paper to do on Dante's Inferno. I wasn't working with him but overheard the conversation about thesis statements and symbols and allegories. I remember doing papers like this in college and I was an English major. And find myself thinking about why we are teaching Dante's Inferno. In High school. But I guess that is part of being an educated person????

And then I worked with a young Muslim girl on genetics - about homozygous and heterozygous and I couldn't remember ever knowing this stuff? And then another girl asked me to check her homework - algebra and factors and I couldn't remember this stuff. And she is just in 7th grade.

It all seemed hard to me and I have a graduate degree.

I guess this is a worthwhile way for me to help - but I wonder if I am any help at all. I can just see these kids going to school with the wrong answers and saying....I am never going to go back there for help again!!!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Day I Picked

I am now volunteering to help kids with homework once a week at the library.
Today, there was hardly anyone there so I did not stay long. But I did see something that stopped me in my tracks.

At the Library there are a whole wall of computers for kids to come and work on their homework. When I got there there were only two children, a boy and a girl - working. They were African American, about 8 years old, the girl with two pigtails and typing slowly from her notebook.

I only read the beginning - "when I was 4 and my sister was 2 my parents split up. They told me that I could pick who I would live with." Then I saw the title over the notebook - "The day I picked."

I did not say anything to her. Just watched her type and thought about how terrible it is that parents split and children have to pick. And then write about it.

My prayer is that my grandchildren will not have to tell a story about the day they had to "pick" between their parents.

The Year of Magical Thinking

I just finished reading The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. It is such a good book.
It ias about the year following the sudden death of her husband John Gregory Dunne.

First of all, I remember reading "Play it as it Lays" by Joan Didion 30 years ago and just loving her very spare writing style. Still do - she has an eye for the small incident that speaks represents so much more.

What struck me about this book was her repulsion of self pity, but the complete compassion that this book evokes in the reader for her as the stunned and wounded widow. This reminded me of the truth of grief - that we may look functional in our grieving - but inside have literally fallen apart.

Yesterday I spent an hour with a woman whose husband died Sunday. Whenever I do a funeral I routinely spend time with the family literally reconstructing the person's life. It is helpful for them in their grieving and for me in preparing the funeral address. It is easy to become detached and forget about the enormity of the grief of the one who is left behind.

This book reminded me that the funeral is really just a cocoon for the grieving person. They are literally in shock and it is in the months and years to come that they come to terms with the loss and begin to reconstruct their life.

This was not written from a faith perspective although I saw glimpses of the divine in the story - even in her writing. I have lost parents and believe that my relationship with God has somehow softened the hardest parts of grieving. Certainly the belief that the ones that I love are with our Lord gives me peace. And I trust that somehow we will be in each other's presence again is a hopeful thought.

But the death of a loved person is the most painful part of this life. And this book describes that pain beautifully.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Giving Birth

This past weekend Kay McGlinchey and I lead a retreat for women at Camp Christian. In the summer we came up with our theme - "O Come, O Come Emmanuel, Be Born in Us Today."

I have done Advent retreats for women for at least 10 years and I am always blessed by doing them personally. I used to do morning retreats - often at a friends home. Since I have been in Columbus we have done a day away at Camp - from 9 to 3. This time we added an optional evening before at camp. Eight of us came early and it was very nice. We were able t
o set up the retreat and spend time in front of the fire relaxing and play games. We will continue to offer this for the next retreat (in Lent - March 8th) and advertise it as a "slumber party." I was really happy that Kacey came for the first time. I wanted her to be part of something that I have been doing and I wanted to see this kind of thing through her eyes.

Our retreat about "Giving Birth" was a Birth! We shared the birth narratives from Luke - Chapter 1 and talked about the stages of giving birth that Mary went through and that we all went through - anxiety, pain, loss, surprise, joy, God sightings, and companions. And all of that happened during this process. Both Kay and I bring different gifts and resources to doing something like thi together and we both plan and both are open to changing plans at the moment, so it is really wonderful for me to work with a partner like this. She had this idea for a craft that I wondered about - but it really worked well. In the afternoon each woman (and we had 40 of all ages!) took a piece of crayola modeling clay and in silence (!) formed whatever God directed us to form. Afterwards we placed them on tables around the altar and then some women shared during worship. It was awesome - more than I could imagine.

She also gave us some prayers to share with the women.
I love this one:

O Blessing God,
I am immersed in your story
I am Mary and Elizabeth
I am prophet and singer
Old mother, fetus and angel,
And I know you,
You enter a woman and through her
You enter the human hearts
of all who eat the fruit of her womb.
You come to those who cannot trust
their own strength to live
You find your way to me
through my most vulnerable need

O Blessing God,
May the sound of greeting this day
Cause the child within me
To leap with expectation,
And, as I ponder why I should be so honored by your gift,
Leap forth with joy from the ocean of joy within
Incarnate me to be your improbably gift of blessing
To another
For you have believed in me
That I might bring to completion
Your promise of radical love
to the whole world.

I read this aloud to the group and we shared what spoke to us and I realized how powerful this was. Speaking about our God who comes to us through our most vulnerable need and promises us radical love.

I am still in awe of what happened that day. BUT it is Monday and since then I experienced 2 other "birth experiences" - Sunday worship and an awesome Holiday Praise Concert last night.
I have trouble sleeping when I am anxious about events like this and THEN I have trouble sleeping afterwards as I ponder in true amazement how it all comes together and was more than I could have ever imagined.

So, thanks be to God who works through me and through us to help create experiences that give renewal and change lives.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


It is amazing to have three daughters who all blog. Audrey wrote in her blog about some of the memorable thanksgivings that we have had as a family. (
Kacey wrote about this year and put pictures in. It was wonderful.
If you want to look at it -

From my perspective, I just feel blessed by it all. I have made the joke (or observation) that I am no longer the queen of the family - but I have become the "Queen Mother,." The next generation is making the decisions and I just go where they tell me. It is very freeing especially since my daughters are creative and responsible.

So this year we went to three cabins in the woods. Audrey and Kacey and Chuck's son Brian and his wife and Dawn and Jason. We enjoyed the meal and it was delicious and low stress with eathing off paper plates and everyone bringing some aspect of the meal together.

We ate in shifts which spread the meal over about four hours and gave us time for a nice walk in between turkey and dessert.

The best part of Thanksgiving was everything else.
I got to look out the window and watch Brettt and Jason in the rowboat with Jackson and Alyse in the morning.
I got to watch them fishing.
I got to sit at night around a beautiful campfire and see Huong eat her first S-more and show us how they coook potatoes in the fire in VietNam.
I got to sing and play guitar with Caroline and Audrey around the fire and there is a FULL MOON in the sky.
I got to play games with my grandkids.
I got to be with one of my favorite Grandma's - Karen who loves Jax and Alyse like I do!!
I got to see Brett's grandparents and the obvious love and affection they have after 50 plus years of marriage.
I got to leave everyone and go read in my own cabin and watch Gray's Anatomy when I needed some alone time.
I got to know that my kids and friends were in the hot tubs and having fun being together.

As I look back over Thanksgivings in my past - especially as a young adult, I remember tension about the meal and about being together. The greatest gift that I experience these days is a sense of peace and love and joy.
Talk about thanksgiving!!!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

getting ready

I am getting ready for many things.
First of all, I am getting ready for Thanksgiving. This year we are renting three cains in the woods and going to have a very different holiday. Less stress supposedly as we are having a simpler meal. Right now all I can think of is - what do I need to pack? what are we going to eat? what are we going to do? And the fear is that we will get down there and not have enough.
Is this living out of scarcity? Probaly - the pull of the simple is at odds with the fear of not having enough. Anyway, what to bring is taking up a lot of space in my head.

And I am getting ready for Sunday service. I will be preaching something that I am calling my signature sermon. And it is a review of the life of the church - and a look ahead to the next year.
Not too much to ask of myself. And trying to attach it to the book of this week, which is the book of Daniel. The bulletin will be completed today and I need to make sure that it is okay.
And the sermon notes - for a sermon that is yet to be written.

And we as a church are getting ready for Advent. We have put together an advent devotional. We had people from the church write daily readings based upon the four themes of the weeks and scriptures that I had selected. Yesterday we printed them all out and I read through the whole thing and thought it was wonderful. How cool is this that we actually did it! And today we have a group that are literally putting it together.

And Sunday we decorate the church for Advent.

And at the same time I am thinking ahead to 2008. I have this really interesting idea about a "story telling project" for the year that would involve Sermons, shut ins and the sermon inserts.
More about that later.

Preparing is important to everything that I do - I just hope that I don't miss the moment in all the planning and thinking ahead.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Building the Ark

I just returned from our monthly "Reel Faith" where we show movies at the church. We watched "Evan Almighty" a movie that was better than I expected it to be. Even though it was corny, I still found myself laughing at parts of it and somehow identified with God calling Evan and the changes in Evan because he was supposed to build the ark.

Today I had lunch with Yvonne Gilmer Essig who has been hired by our region and the UCC to develop a church in our neighborhood. It was presented to us almost 2 years ago as a new church start that was designed to be African American. We were a little put out because the plan seemed to be literally within a mile of our church. But at this point, I realize that this is going to be very different from our church vision of a diverse service. Yvonne is in her late twenties and my guess is that her emphasis will be on young (emergent) worship and diverse.

As we talked about the neighborhood that we both seek to serve, it seems like it is so hard! It is hard to reach out to the community from an established church like Karl Road and certainly it is hard to start from scratch as she is doing. And somehow, this movie about building the ark resonated for me tonight. Yvonne told me that during her process of discerning this call to come here to Columbus (she was living in Maryland - and her family is still there until June) she couldn't sleep at night. And sometimes that is how God calls us.

I sure don't know much at this point about the ark that we are supposed to be building except that our church is being called to become more diverse and intergenerational and I don't know how to do it. But I believe that step by step God will show me (us) the way. And in the movie Noah's hair turned white - will that happen to me?

I like the idea of "build it and they will come" but - really - how do you build it?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church

That is the name of the conference that I went to yesterday. It is based on the book by Paul Nixon and he led the workshop. Over the years I have been to a lot of these conferences and they often give me good ideas about what to do in leading the church. They also can leave me with a sense of frustration. They are usually led by men and often they speak of the need for radical change or organization. Sometimes you get the sense that the church needs to move forward for the next generation and too bad for those faithful ones who have literally built the church.

Saying all that, this conference was a good one for me. We purchased the book and I am going to read it with the plan to possibly have the board and elders read it next year and to review each of the chapters every month from January to June.

Karl Road Christian Church is not a dying church and we are definitely moving in the right direction. I am so glad that we have come through what we have come through - in terms of discerning our core values, bedrock beliefs and have our motivating vision. This has been foundational.

His thesis is that the church has choices that move us either into life or death. The six key choices:
1.Life over death
2. community over isolation
3. Fun over drudgery
4. bold over mild
5. frontier over fortress
6. now over later.

We have work to do in each one of these but thank God the church is not stuck and we do not have opposition to trying new things. I know that I need to get out of the office and into the community more. I am going to be tutoring at the library up the street which should be helpful.
He suggested that we go to coffee shops on a regular basis so that we strike up conversations with people and become kind of a known quantity. We don't have coffee shops in our neighborhood, but we do have MacDonalds - and God knows I like to drink coffee.

So, I keep learning and trying new ways to stretch myself and pray that God will guide me to people who need a relationship with Jesus Christ.

One other aspect that really spoke to me in this conference was having a sense of urgency. I have that as time seems to just zoom. Four years have passed here in a blink and I have a finite amount of time left in this parish. I pray that God will give me courage to really reach out.

Friday, November 9, 2007

eventually Susan

I have been on the phone for an hour talking to my best friend Susan and encouraging her to figure out how to put books on "goodreads" and how to start a blog.

It is an interesting time in our lives. We have been friends since we were freshmen in college. We were both English majors and ended up as writers in some sense - she is now a reporter in Phoeniz and I write sermons every week.

But something has happened over the years. We moved from writing with pen and paper and typerwriter to computer to internet. She now knows more about me because she reads my blog and my daughters' blogs than she has known for years.

But - speaking for both of us. It is a struggle to keep on learning this stuff. I watch my daughters text, and take pictures with their phones and handily work their way around the net and I do my part slowly and carefully and clumsily. And I have trouble seeing the computer because of my foggy contacts and my weak eyes.

The fear is that we won't keep up. Susan was going to name her blog - "suddenly Susan" but the name was taken. And my suggestion - "Eventually Susan" is more appropriate for a blog by a 58 year old woman. It happens eventually these days. But it happens.

check it out -

American Gangster

Thursday is my day off and my favorite thing to do is to go to the movies. And so this week - American Gangster. I knew I would like it because I love the whole genre of mob movies - plus Denzel Washington and 'Russell Crowe were in it!

I went with someone who had never seen a mob movie or the Sopranos. There are a lot of elements in this movies that were familiar.

- the Mob Boss as CEO who you find yourself admiring for his discipline and organization
- The Mob Boss with a family - the women who accept the financial benefits and pretend that they don't know where it came from
- the family that is also the weakness with brothers who may betray the boss
- the violence that is always there and can shock you - either a sudden fight at a party or a shocking shot to the head
- the church in the background - this time it was a protestant church and we heard hymns - "A Mighty Fortress, How Great thou Art, Amazing Grace. The mob boss who worships!
- the moral ambiguity with the police who are on the take

The character that Russell Crowe played was a renegade police officer who was not trusted by his colleagues because he was NOT on the take - he had given back a million dollars that he and his partner found in a trunk.
Later he gives up custody of his son, because he realized that his life is not conducive to raising children. Meanwhile the mob boss has a whole loving family around him.

What made this movie different was that now we have an African American Gangster. And so there is an American - "self made man" - shaped by the culture he was raised in. Really a fascinating film.
With great acting!
I not only recommend it - but would see it again.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Long Obedience

A Long Obedience In the Same Direction is a wonderful book by Eugene Peterson which is about the Psalms of Ascent - Psalms 120 - 136.
This Sunday I am going to preach on Psalm 130 so I have been spending some time with this book again and just re reading my underlinings. And want to share what continues to touch me.
Here are some quotes from the book:

"The world is no friend to grace." Opening sentence of the book. Think about that.

"World is an atmosphere, a mood. It is nearly as hard for a sinner to recognize the world's temptations as it is for a fish to discover the impurities in the water."

"One aspect of the world that I have been able to identify as harmful to Christians is the assupmtions that anything worthwhile can be acquired at once."

"There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness."

He quotes Gore Vidal who wrote that today's passion is for the "immediate and the casual."

"Christian living demands that we keep our feet on the ground; it also asks us to make a leap of faith. A Christian who stays put is no better than a statue. A person who leaps about constantly is under suspicion of being not a man (or woman!) but a jumping jack."

And the bottom line of this book is that this journey of following Jesus is one of dedication and perseverance. He writes that we are best guided by a fusion of scripture and prayer:
"It is not a terribly difficult way of reading and writing, but it does require diligent attentiveness. The fusion is accompanied by reading these scriptures slowly, imaginatively, prayerfully and obediently."

One of the blessings of this year for me has been that a year ago I purchased his book"The Daily Message: through the Bible in One Year." And so, this year I have read and preached through the entire Bible. I am always awed by the way that the word - especially studied in community - can speak to directly to my life.

And so this week - Psalm 130 - which begins:
Out of the depths I cry to you.

Hmmmm....I wonder where is this going to lead this week?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Peace of the Lord

This morning I got a call from Ed. His wife Jo was having a bad morning and she was upset and weepy and wanted to see me. She is in hospice and living in a hospital bed in the living room.

She is one of the sweetest women I think I have ever met. When I went to see her, we held hands and talked. She talked about her parents and seemed to be reliving their death and spoke of the cemetary. And how hard it was.

I asked for a Bible and read to her from John 14 - the verses that I read to both my Dad and my Mom as they lay dying. About the peace that God gives to us. "Peace I give you. Not as the world gives. Believe in God, believe also in me" The scripture that speaks about Jesus who goes ahead and prepares a place for us. I remember reading it to my Dad and he was maybe in a coma, but I felt he heard me. And the evening before my mother died, I told her that I had read this to him and she said "I know." Those were among the dozen words that she spoke to me that evening.

So I read to Jo. This and then Psalm 121 and then Psalm 23. I lined that to her - I said a line and she said a line. And then afterwards I said - the Lord is my shepherd and she repeated it.
And she said over and over again "He prepares my soul."
And I prayer for the peace of the Lord to be with her. And clearly it was. The tears ended and she asked Ed to bring some coffee.

There is power in the word of God and there is power in prayer.
Last night we took part in a healing service at Gender Road Christian Church. We did our reiki for about 6 people. And in our healing touch, and in our silent prayers, and in the presence of God in that place there was peace.
I don't understand any of this. But I trust it and feel blessed to be able to read God's word to people, to pray for them and to be with them in times of need.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

morning out

Every three months we have a morning out for young women. I went to this one because I wanted to lead it on prayer.
We were at Kim Veatch's beautiful home and it is November 2nd and we were able to walk in the woods.

Whenever I do this kind of thing I have learned that less is more. What people need is time alone with God and I can always trust that in some way "God shows up." And it happened today.

I shared some resources on prayer from a prayer retreat I did in September. Among other things - the idea of meditation on nature and the serenity prayer and some Bible verses that matched the 12 steps of our "prayers anonymous." After we share some joys and struggles in our lives we just had time in this beautiful place to be with God.

I spent the time first writing a prayer and then walking in the woods. As I walked in the woods I first was meditating on this scripture: "As I Humble myself before the Lord, God lifts me up."
I walked fast and enjoyed the effect on my body of walking, walking, walking. I love the sounds of the leaves as I walked and walked along the river and just enjoyed the whole thing.
As I returned back to Kim's house, I at times wondered where the path was - but it always showed itelf to me. And I thought how much that is like my life. and my mantra then became
"As I humble myself before the Lord, God shows me the way."

Returning back and sharing with the other women was so meaningful. When we shared our struggles in the beginning I felt that they were universal - struggles with balance, with accepting people as they are, with what to do in the future, with being kinder, with weight (that's me!!) with life.
I think that having a morning and sharing and then allowing silence and nature and scripture to fill us can gives us some peace and faith. To keep going, to trust, to live.

I could do this every week.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


We went to Kacey's for Halloween as we have done every year since we have been here.
We had sloppy joes and chips and brownies and watched the kids leave to go trick or treating.
This year the 4 of them all went together - "Alyse, Reagan, Addie and Jackson with parents who were dressed for Halloween and Dawn. What fun.
The 5 year old girls ran ahead with Brett and the little ones stayed with girls. They came home with bags full of candy - reminding me of my own time trick or treating and when the girls went out as children.

I got to hand out candy with Chuck and Karen, Brett's mom. We talked to all the kids and asked them what they were wearing. And with the older kids asked them to do "tricks" - one girl actually did a back flip on the driveway. Really we just wanted a joke or two! I love kidding around with kids!

The costumes of the kids were creative. Lots of pirates and wizards and little girls with wings - like angels, tinerbell, fairies. Some of it was funny - a teenage boy who was a "homosexual ghost" a "goth skateboarder" (without the skatboard) a boy dressed in jeans and T shirt who said he was dressed as his dad! One girl said she was dressed like a drama queen.

I asked a little girl who was in pink stiped dress, leggings and a pink sweater what her costume was and she didn't say anything. Her mother said - from the street - "tell her that you are dressed as jailbait." This girl was about 10 years old.
Afterwards - even though we laughed about it - you think - how does a mother explain that to her daughter? I want my grandgirls to be little girls. I love the fact that they dress as princesses - and play make believe. I hate the thought of how soon everything gets sexualized when it should be innocent.

I am grateful that we could have such a beautiful night as a family......I wonder how long it can be simple and fun.

ezekiel part 2

I am up early this morning - at 6 AM and ruminating some more about Ezekiel. This description of his vision in chapter one goes on and one. A four faced creature with wheels and wings. I know that we can take it apart and talk about each face and what it means, and what the wheels and wings mean. Is that what I will do on Sunday? I don't think so.

Instead I keep thinking a God who gives us visions and how easy it is to ignore them and try to just live our lives on the surface.

And if we really pay attention to the visions and to the reality of God's communication with us what do we do with it? In Ezekiel's case he goes into worship. And I think about how easy it is for our "Sunday worship" to be rote and thin. Something we do - not something that takes us over.

And then he witnesses the light to those in the darkness. And God is telling him right from the beginning about how stubborn and rebellious the people are. And I think about how often I think about people who "you can't tell them anything" and so I don't even try. I just let it go and wait. For the moment. Which often never comes.

So, what is God wanting me to preach on Sunday? I keep coming back to the vision that is more than I can understand and even wrap my mind around. That is God. Will people understand this? Relate to this?

I don't know. I do....and I realize that when I glimpse this God, I run away. Is that just me, or is that our story?
Still ruminating......

Monday, October 29, 2007


I just read Audrey's blog and she is writing something about Ezekiel. We are reading through the Bible this year and now we are spending time with Ezekiel. I read the first 3 chapters this morning and thought about preaching this Sunday on Ezekiel.

Wow! It starts with his call from God in the form of a fantastic vision of a creature that has 4 faces - face of a man, an eagle, an ox, a lion. And it has wings and wheels! And he is then being called to preach to God's stubborn and rebellious people.

And I am also reading a book called "360 Degree Leadership: preaching to transform congregations" which goes on and on about thin blooded preaching. And on this Monday afternoon I sit and feel inadequate to try to open up God's message in Ezekiel in a way that would really be transformative.

but......I know there is something big here. Something about our God who is bigger than and more than we can even begin to imagine. Something about the vision of the life that God calls us to that is bigger than we can imagine - both as church and as individuals.

I am wondering if the temptation in preaching that makes it thin blooded is to make it palateable so that people don't see the chasm between what we are and what God wants us to be. And maybe full bodied preaching has an aspect about it of being hard to swallow at first.

I was convicted reading Audrey's blog today with the quote that said that we are not - as church supposed to be meeting people's needs" but to become CHURCH - this holy body that may be as hard to define as a fantastic creatiure with four faces and wheels and wings!

Beginning thoughts on Ezekial -saying I hope that God will clarify this stuff this week.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Gone Baby Gone

This is called - no easy answers part two.

Yesterday Chuck and I saw Gone, Baby, Gone - new film out that is directed by Ben Affleck. It was well done movie that is about the abduction of a 4 year old. It is about much more than that, however and it had a number of plot twists in it. The hero of the movie "does the right thing" that ruined people's lives and probably made the basic situation worse.
He lost his girlfirend because of it - but he did the right thing.

Once again - no easy answers.

This movie was set in Boston and gave a view of its underbelly and the reality of people who are living careless and destructive lives and the reality of child molesters who do unspeakable things to innocent children. In the face of that evil - what is our responsibility or do we continue to trust the legal system and to live by the rule of law?

I have more questions than answers to any of this. It is a slippery slope when we take the law into our own hands, but are there times when the ends justifies the means?
I don't know.
It is a film that raises a lot of uncomfortable questions.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Elders are the spiritual leaders in a church. And I have learned over the years that this is true.

What is always interesting and awesome is watching people become elders. We have a nominating process as every church does. Names will be suggested by the elders to our nominating committee - (no TEAM!!) and they will decide who they will call first. We will have 3 or 4 positions to fill. Each will serve for three years.

And some years it is a struggle finding people willing to be elders. Either they have been elders over and over again and they are tired of it - or they don't feel adequate to do the job.

At some point I will see the list of who said yes. And those will be the elders for some time ahead. And then we watch them grow - and they do. Yesterday one of our elders told me about the first time she came to the table and she was so nervous and her hands were shaking. But when she got behind the table, a peace came over her. She was becoming an elder.

The elders at the church serve at the table every week and they will do words of institution and the prayer at the table. And sometimes they use prayers from a book, sometimes they write their own and sometimes they spontaneously pray at the table. I always tell them that they get extra points if they mention something from the sermon in their prayer :)

Many, many weeks I am touched by the prayers of the elders. And their seriousness and sense of reverence. A couple of years ago Marilyn was an elder. She was in her 70's and always wore a lot of jewelry - (rings on her fingers - I loved em) and she didn't wear shoes. I wonder when I first noticed that! I finally learned that she was standing on holy ground.

The elders also have to deal with sometimes thorny issues at the church. Our elders here have had to work with a candidate for ordination. Their questions were just powerful and their obvious concern and depth of spirit was wonderful. They have had to make decisions about our first worship service and about other problems.

Our elders this year range in age from 31 to 72. And when we discuss issues eventually every aspect of the problem gets aired respectfully and our collective wisdom is so obvious.

I have a mantra these days. And it is helping me to find peace within my soul. It is this:
This church is God's church. (that is, not MINE)
And - This church has holy leaders who make good decisions.

I am blessed to serve here.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Collar

I am reading a really interesting book on the training of priests called The Collar. Here are some quotes from it.

He writes about Father McNally who teaches Christian History. This is from his handout.

"iMAGINATION IS the most essential and necessary ability/skill of a person who hopes to lead a holy/whole life. By imagination is meanth the freely graced ability to use all of our God given abilities to assist us in forming healthy conscioences and well balanced IMAGES of the concrete world to be come critical thinkers. CRITICAL thinking is very often confused with NEGATIVE thinking, though the two are ABSOLUTE OPPOSITES.

A negative thinker is someone who does not think or refuses to think and thus never asks the question "Why?" Negative thinking is opposed to constructive treatment and sees reality as fixed and final. A negative thinker denies the shadows, and thus even so-called positive thinkers with their Pollyannish insistence on seeing only the good, are really only negative thinkers in disguies. A critical thinker always asks why and accepts reality and (therefore history) as being messy."


"Theology should be done on you knees."

and this story about Reinhold Nebuhr
He entered a lecture hall and said, "God" - then turned around and left

When he returned 5 minutes later he announced, "Whatever you thought of when I said "God" was not God."

Spiritual formation - whether Catholic priest or Protestant clergy or lay person is paradoxical and a struggle.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

crop walk

I just returned from the crop walk. This year there were 8 of us that walked - 2 five year olds, 2 young moms, 3 teens and me. It was a beautiful day and we walked in downtown Columbus for 2 miles. I bet that we will have probably raised about $300 for this by the time we are done.
It was a beautiful day and there were lots of other people walking. The whole thing felt good.

Twenty years ago I was in charge of the Crop Walk in Zanesville. We walked 10 miles! And it was very up and down hills and all around the town. We had various churches on board that would provide snacks for us. Our youth group usually had about 15 kids who walked. And when it was all over we had a picnic at somebody's farm. An annual event.

We also did the crop walk in Bowling Green Ohio - all kinds of different ways of trying it. Walking in a park, walking through the town, walking in a circle at a school.

It is, of course, not about the walk - but a fund raiser. But I have to say that the great blessing for me has always been - no matter where I was - the conversations on the walk. And maybe moreso now. Listening to kids talk about the movies they watch and the books they read. And just having time and nothing else but walking and talking.

As I have gotten older, I am more and more resistent to participating myself in this stuff. but i am always grateful when I do.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Is this a call?

I just got off the phone with Seth who is applying to Methesco for next fall. I went there 25 years ago and last week took Seth on a tour of the campus. When we went into the library I had so many emotions come over me. Mostly, remembering studying there and how much I loved it!
It made me want to go back to school.

This week I had lunch with Kay, one of my spiritual friends who is a minister who also serves as a spiritual director. She was talking about WellStreams where she helps supervise those who are learning spiritual direction. And as she talked I thought (and said!) I would like to become a spiritual director. And she was so enthusiastic about it and said that they are going to start a new class next fall.

So, I got on the website and wrote to the director who directed me to the place where I could get information on the web about the program. It is 5 sememsters, beginning next fall. Two and a half years! And I look at the courses and I think - Wow -this is what I want to study.
Dynamics of Transformation
Treands in Christian Spirituality
Practices in Prayer
Humani Development personality Type and Spirituality
And that is just the first two semesters!!!!!

So, I sit at my desk and am supposed to be working on a sermon about Jeremiah and the call to leadership and just want to fill out the application and get the ball rolling.

Is this a call? I think so!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

In the valley of elah

We went to the movies today and saw In the Valley of Elah.
I picked it because it had three and a half stars and it was just a compelling movie.
Tommy Lee Jones plays a father of a soldier who has gone AWOL a week after he has returned from Iraq. And he goes to find him.

The acting was great. It seemed like there was not much dialogue - but so much was expressed in face - both Tommy Lee Jones very weathered and sad face and Charlize Theron's beautiful and troubled face. She played a detective who worked with him to find the son.

I don't want to talk about the plot - all I can say is that this movie depicted some of the toll of war - the dehumanization that happens to the soldiers who were put into horrific situations in Iraq and came home changed.

I can't begin to express the sadness that I felt at the end of the movie. The soldiers who were depicted all seemed so young - as so many are. Oh, I don't even know what to say except the obvious - that I wish wilth all my heart that we had never gone into that country and I wish that we could get out tomorrow. The fact that even the democratic candidates running for president were unwilling to make commitments to getting us out in less than 4 years is just heartbreaking and frustrating.

This movies was about the war and showed very little of the war in it. The truth for me - as for I imagine most people - is that my knowledge of war comes more from movies than anything else. I remember watching The Deer Hunter, Coming Home and Platoon which were all about the Viet Nam war. I think Platoon probably convicted me of the hell of war more than any movies I ever saw. I can still remember watching the soldiers set fire to the village with Samuel Barber's musiic (elegy or something?) in the background. Ever since, whenever I hear that music I think of VietNam.

Anyway, I am glad I saw this film. I hate that we are in Iraq.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Lessons from Alyse

We got to spend time with Alyse, my 5 year old granddaughter. She just had a birthday and I had this idea that I would not buy her a gift but take her to Toys R Us. What a mistake that was.
We got there and it was too much. There were too many choices and just toooooo much everything for her. I had this idea that I would tell her about an amount of money ($30) and we would find a couple of somethings that she would like. Ahead of time we had talked about a Leapster game and a baby doll. So we are looking and I recognize over and over again how impatient I am. I want to explain stuff and she is supposed to listen and then choose carefully.
What the heck was I thinking?

Anyway, we looked at baby dolls and suddenly she picks up this purple purse with a doll in it and walks around with that. It only cost about $7 so I am ready to keep looking.
She wants to go to the bathroom, she wants to leave. I want to buy more.
Then we get to some games and some crafts. And books. Look at that suff. She sees a jewelry making kit and then says that is what she wants. Which one? She picks the biggest. Now she doesn't want the doll.

So, it is only $20 - how about a games? She said clearly, "I want to leave. I want to go!" She runs ahead. I am, of course, stupidly wanting her to come back and look at games.
"I want to leave. I want to go." I cannot write and depict her high kind of screechy voice at this point.
Finally we leave. And at the check out counter, the clerk says, "You are going to make some pretty jewelry. Will you make something for me?" And Alyse says "No!" And then she says,
"If I give you a sucker, will you make something for me?" And Alyse says "No!" And then we are stymied. Thank God she gave her a sucker and I said something about grace (I am a pastor, after all) and thank God Alyse said "Thank you."

So, the fun outing was not so fun. But the lesson for me is the one that I like to give others. Get to know the person and give them what they want - and not what you want!! And she wanted a wrapped present that I had picked out for her!!

When we went to make Jewelry it got frustrating, so Alyse ran away into a corner of the family room behind a chair and said she missed Jackson. So, I put on the TV and gradually she moved over there. And then I asked her if she wanted to pick out beads for my bracelet. And she did.

Maybe in a couple of weeks (or years) we will try it again. And make a bracelet for her.

Thank God for Grace.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Morning Prayer

Frequently I start the day in prayer in a room in my home that is the prayer room.
This year we are working our way as a congregation through the whole Bible. So I begin with reading whatever is the reading of that day.
Sometimes I get through it and sometimes I get stopped in the middle with a word, or a phrase or a thought.
This week we are reading Jeremiah and it continually is disturbing me. Jeremiah has been called by God to speak God's word to God's people. And it is a harsh word. It is a word that says that you have been faithless to me - you have "gone after worthless things and you become worthless." You have ignored the living water and dug cisterns that are cracked. Lots of ways of saying that you have turned away from God and worshipped other Gods.And God is going to allow the enemies (Assyrians and Babylonians) to defeat the people of Israel.

I marvel at the poetry of this. And I see myself everywhere - the one who is called to speak the hard truths and the one who is also going after worthless things and becoming worthless.

Reading this invariably leads me to my journal which tends to be prayers that focus on the two basic prayers that Anne Lamott mentions in Traveling Mercies. "Thank you" and "Help me"
I feel grateful for the amazing blessings of the fulness of my life and at the same time - in these moments completely inadequate to the task of pastoring the church. Knowing when to speak, what speak, when to keep silent. It is a continual challenge that I often fail. Thank God for the grace of God.

These mornings are so important to centering my soul as I continue to live this life and this calling. I wish I did this every morning, but I do not. I spoke to my spiritual director about the fact that I am (and have always been) sporadic in morning devotions, (keep to it for a couple of weeks and then stop and then come back again!!)and she asked this question: "Do you think that God misses you?"

Why does that questions startle me so much? I think I have been so self centered that I think that the morning devotions are all about me.

I pray for the grace and mercy of God and that God will continue to grow me in my own personal faith.

Lord, Jesus Christ, son of the Living God, Have Mercy on Me a Sinner

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Prayer Blankets

We have a ministry where we give prayer blankets to people in our church. We started this about a year and a half ago and have given out at least a dozen blankets.

Someone from the church makes a blanket in whatever way they want - sewing, knitting, crocheting. Sometimes people have brought one that they bought. They just sort of come in as needed in some way that is almost mystical. When we know that there is someone in the congregation who we cant to give a blanket to - we pass it through the church members during Sunday worship. The instructions to the congregation are that people are to pray over the blanket in for whoever the intended person is.

About a month ago, we gave a blanket to Doug who had a stroke. I brought it to him in the hospital and he really was touched by it. Even though he is having trouble "tracking" with his memory he knows that this is important to him. Saturday I got a call from a family member that somehow the blanket - in his moving from room to room in the hospital was gone. And Doug was inconsolable. I had another blanket in my office, so Saturday afternoon I went to the hospital to give that one to him. It did not look like the previous blanket - however, he welcomed it. I prayed over Doug and the blanket and talked about how God loved him and cared for him and the church loved him and this was a symbol of that.

I was concerned because I knew that I wanted to give a blanket to Jo in our church who is now in hospice care. And to my wonder, Merlyn appeared in my office this morning with 2 blankets that had been donated a while ago - that she had embroidered "Karl Road Christian Church Praying for you." Again - as always - the blanket appeared as needed. So, this morning it passed through the congregation and each person prayed over it.

This aftenoon I was so blessed to take the blanket to Jo. And we remarked on the beautiful fall colors and the fact that it was made by Essie, one of our longtime members. Jo is becoming increasingly frail but knew and appreciated the gift. And the whole thing seems perfect in every way. And for me, I am so awed by the moments in my life when I get to pray with people expressing God's love to them that is evidenced in a blanket.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Break Ins

I finally had contact with the policeman who has been trying to connect with me. The church was broken into 2 months ago. Someone threw a concrete statue from the garden through a window into my office and entered. Something scared them and they did not take anything. However, they tried to. They put the printer in a plasic bag and tried to pull out the computer. When I cam in that morning there was glass all over the place and some blood on the bag and on a chair in my office. They took blood samples and amazingly enough had a hit and the person was in jail and is now going to go to trial for this. I had to write up a statement for the police yesterday. He was disappointed that they didn't take anything because it would only be a misdemeanor and not a felony.

This is our second break in in the past year and a half. The other time the policeman told me that it was probably someone looking for money for drugs.

I got an email from my brother Wayne who may be on TV this morning about the break in at his school. He had mentioned it ot me this summer.....and that it might "blow up" which it has. He told us to google "Hanover cheating" to get the story which I did. A group of 50 - to 60 young people worked together to break into the school to obtain keys to a file cabinet and to get test answers to cheat on tests. And now they have been found out. And there is division in the town. Should the police have been called in? What sort of punishment is appropriate? Will this affect the schools (often ivy league) that these students will go to? This is a school system where 90 % of the students go to college and the suspects are probably all priveleged young people. But they did take something - so they could actually be charged with a felony.

I woke up this morning thinking about these two break ins and how different lives can be. And how easily anyone can convince themselves that breaking in is possible and acceptable. And how differently we judge.

I may actually have to go to court in this case against the guy who broke into the church. Maybe I should talk to him and see him as a person. I wonder where all of this is leading.

Just wondering and ruminating.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Monday night

One of the blessings of my life is that I serve as Co-Director of Advance Conference which is our camp for young adults. Last year I realized that many, many of these young people live in Columbus.

So, I made a suggestions to Jennie (a natural leader!) that I would be willing to host a Bible study in my home. And she checked around and found that Mondays at 9 PM was the best time for the group. At my suggestion we moved it up to 8:30 and I led the first Bible study of 8.
After that I told them tha someone else would lead and they did. At the question of how often to meet - weekly, monthly, every other week? The answer - weekly. And so my life changed.
Because practically every week at 8:30 - from 8 to 17 young people come into my family room to study the Bible.

I am in another room - right now the family room. All I provide is the place and the snacks. And the snacks have gotten easier as I learned that bottled water is what everyone wants. Over the past year I have tried all kinds of things - from popcorn, to chips and salso, potato chips, brownings, oreos. Right now as I type this it is chocolate chip cookies and pretzels.

They start every evening with an ice breaker question. Tonight's was - what name would you have (or like to have) if you had been born of the opposite sex. Good question. Then the Bible study and then at the end they share prayer concerns. Sometimes they have listened to music or watched movie clips or even a part of the Simpsons. Sometimes they have questions about the BIble and ask me what I think. Sometimes I don't have a clue and sometimes I have some wisdom for them. I am not in the room but sometimes I overhear the prayer concerns. Over the past year I have heard a lot about job seeking, job changing, financial concerns and family, health and relationship issues.

I cannot overstate how blessed I feel that they are here. To be able to host young people who are hungry for community and for spiritual understanding is awesome. And it speaks to the need for providing space for that. Some of them go to my church, some to some other churches in town and some to no church. In fact, this may be their church right now.

My life changed because I had to change my day off because they are meeting here. And after 15 years of having Mondays off it is really different for me. The rhythem is not the same in my week or in my body. But keeping MOnday as my day off and not being able to go anyplace on Monday was not working either. The other change is that after they leave I am always wired and cannot go to sleep easily. I don't know it the HOly Spirit keeping me up?

This whole thing has something to do with the Christian journey. Something about a willingness to be open and vulnerable and change. And none of it is easy. But definitely worth it.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Prayer Walk

We joined with three other churches to do a prayer walk in the neighborhood this afternoon after church. Well, one church did not show up - and two people were from Karl Road and the other 6 were from Epworth UMC. Not a big turnout.

This was the second prayer walk in the neighborhood. The first one had 14 people - this one had eight.

We started at 12:30 with a prayer and walked down Karl Road, a pretty busy street and turned onto Robin Road - went the length of it and then turned around and walked back. We walked in silence. This area is a place where there is a lot of crime.

The area on Robin Road is full of apartments. The first thought I had seeing all those apartments was ....why do we have so few people come to our church? My gosh, there were thousands of people that lived in those apartments. Do they go to church? If so, where?
And second thought - are we supposed to come to them in some way? Always as church we are inviting people to come to do we reach out? Darned if I know!

Other thoughts. I asked Dawn who walked with me and she said that she saw all these symbols.
Broken glass= broken lives; dried grass = thirsty lives; trash = neglect. Etc. Etc. That was certainly there. As well as occasional flowers and a butterfly that moved around us at times.

My prayers were always visuallizing angels on the tops of the buildings and lights coming in to the windows as I prayed for blessing, peace, protection and love for all who lived in these places.

And this experience is like every prayer experience that I have ever had. Is this doing anything? What difference does it make? And always, the only answer I have come up with is that we are called to be faithful.

Maybe the best part of it on a personal level was walking in silence. I am getting to this place of loving silence even though I run away from it. It was not actually silent because of traffic and people sounds - but I could - in not talking and not having people chattering - feel some expression of God's presence.

I will do this again.

sermon on Job

There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. Job: 1:1
Job was the richest man around but in a single day he was wiped out. His world was falling apart.
The Sabeans ran off with his asses and oxen and slaughtered his hired hands
Lightening struck the sheep barn – it burnt the whole flock – not to mention the shepherds The Chaldeans rustled his camels and camel drivers
And a hurricane came and did the final damage – hit the house where his 7 sons and 3 daughters were and killed them As if this were not enough – Job came down with leprosy
The story of Job – in a word is about suffering – and how are we going to respond to the suffering in life?

Suffering – What do you picture when I say that word? What do you picture??
Soldiers in Iraq – People in Iraq………People suffering from AIDs
Someone recovering from surgery;;;;;;;;The suffering of Depression
The suffering of a broken heart…….Physical suffering cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, strokes, …….Suffering from racism, poverty, child abuse,

What is the picture in your head of suffering?
Are you yourself in a place of suffering?
Is there someone who comes to mind?

For Job he cursed the day he was born and prayed to die – but that prayer was not answered
He prayed for the sun to stop shining but that prayer was not answered
His wife – the only one of his family left advised him to turn his back on God and curse him and then go hang himself

But Job was a good and religious man and there were some lengths – that even in the horror of his life – he would not go
But because he was a good and religious man he was left with some awful questions
Why had God let such things happen to him
The question – WHY ME?

He had well meaning but insufferable friends
And all of their arguments come to one point
If Job was being punished in this way – something must have happened that caused it. He must have done something
They believed in a world which is governed in a rational manner by divine wisdom
God was just, God was good
God made good things happen to good people
And bad things happen to bad people

Bad things were happening to Job – there fore he must have done something bad And he should feel guilty
Job angrily rejected this –
As for you, you whitewash with lies; all of you are worthless physicians. 5If you would only keep silent, that would be your wisdom!

You know who they were – a bunch of theological quacks
The smartest thing they could do was to shut up
But they were too busy explaining things to listen – easy answers

Think for a moment about your answers for your own and other people’s suffering
Or worse yet, perhaps – your advice giving – for many of us – it would be our wisdom to keep silent – to shut up
Walter Brueggemann described the friends as “pre-pain”
Until you have experienced undeserved suffering yourself – it is comforting to believe that the universe is a comfortable and well ordered place

Anyway back to the story
Poor Job – not only broken and in pain – but now friends who expect him to be guilty
Job understands that his friends don’t know as much as they think they know
So we have a long discourse as he muses on wisdom
20“Where then does wisdom come from? And where is the place of understanding? 21It is hidden from the eyes of all living, and concealed from the birds of the air.
Then Job reminisces about the good old days when he and God were “like that”
29Job again took up his discourse and said: 2“Oh, that I were as in the months of old, as in the days when God watched over me; 3when his lamp shone over my head, and by his light I walked through darkness; 4when I was in my prime, when the friendship of God was upon my tent; 5when the Almighty was still with me, ….

But now Job feels alone
30:20 20I cry to you and you do not answer me; I stand, and you merely look at me.

Giving voice to his pain and his confusion and his lack of answers – where are you, God? Am I talking to myself?
One more friend to give an answer – Elihu
Talks for a couple of chapters –
36:15 He delivers the afflicted by their affliction, and opens their ear by adversity.
Translation – no pain …no gain
Suffering in life toughens us
It is the refiner’s fire – you know God never gives us more than we can handle
Now – not guilty – but grateful? For things that have happened
But before Job can answer this explanation – God speaks – the most gorgeous speech in the old Testament
Composed almost entirely of magnificent and preposterous questions
4“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
5Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?
6On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone 7when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
8“Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?—

On and on – meaning – who do you think you are?
God is not through – perhaps he is like a great cosmic bully or an artist or a singer of magnified proportion
So often we hear people interpret this response of God to Job as an angry response, that God is scolding Job.
There is another way to understand this speech of God. The Hebrew Bible scholar Kathleen O’Connor talks about this speech as a turning point in Job’s life, not because God scolded Job and put him in his place, but because this speech turns the question from why to who and in so doing, God’s word offers Job a new vision.
The answer to the question “Who?” offered to Job hope and healing and eventually restoration. It was in this experience that is recreated for us in this poem that tries to somehow explain the unexplainable – the mysterious and magnificent reality of God
First – Job – faithful – Sunday school – knew God – BUT – never anything like this before. This amazing dialogue with God who ended up putting him in his place – Who God is – who we are –
Great glory of God shot through the clouds
Voice of the one we worship today – you know we only get glimpses, stirrings, nudgings – occasionally there is this! kind of experience when God comes in a powerful way:
I am creator – present before creation
I am sovereign –not answerable to you,
I am the lover – the one who gave his son to suffer for you (more about that later)

This encounter was about God’s transcendence
And for Job – the experience was Awe – Fear - holy otherness – of God
Job is a powerful, provocative, poetic book of the Bible that words are inadequate to experience
And that reality is that intellectual answers and theological constructs about life and God will only take us so far.
Cannot explain suffering – can only acknowledge it
we may not know why we suffer and others suffer and the world is so unfair
Frederick Buechner said If you take three facts,:"God is good, God is great, and the innocent suffer "you can only reconcile two of those. You can never, ever reconcile all three. The Bible never gives an answer.
After Job complains and complains, God says to Him, "Where were you when I created the world? You don't ask me those questions."
He says to Jeremiah, "I am the potter, you are the clay. The clay does not ask the potter that kind of question

Secondly we come here with the awareness that we are New Testament people – and that is HUGE
In the Old Testament and the background of the New Testament, when someone had leprosy, blindness or lameness, you avoided them because they were being punished by God.
But in the New Testament, when somebody is suffering, you go to the place of suffering. Where people are being crucified the most, you go the most. Where suffering is, there is God in the midst of those people. Not with answers – but with presence - #508 hymnal
For one who suffers by Howard Thurman - I know I cannot enter all you feel, Nor bear with you the burden of your pain I can but offer what my love does give – the strength of caring – the warmth of one who seeks to understand – this I do in quiet ways – that yon your lonely path you may not walk alone.
We recognize: That at the heart of our faith as Christians is the person of Jesus Christ and the great symbol of our faith is the cross, the way of the cross, the way of suffering to save the world.”
The cross - A place of suffering and a symbol of victory
The cross represents our faith that Ultimately God will not leave evil unanswered. The day will come when all of the crooked things will be made straight and all of the dark things will be made bright and all of the innocent will be vindicated. That is what the cross of Christ is all about.
We suffer in this life and often we want to know more and control more than we get to
Some of you are in a place of suffering right now – and you may be surrounded by friends who are pre pain – and living in a culture that is pain denying
And the message for today is simply =- that you are not alone
There is our God who transcends our little lives and who triumphs over sufferingAnd redeems our suffering God is the one who comes to us in the cross, who comes to us in Jesus Christ. J Jesus is God’s answer to us in our lives.
Jesus comes to us, as the crucified and as the risen, with the power to make a difference.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


I am listening to a book on tape - about Neuro Linguistic Programming. The fact that we can program our brains to think a thought and our actions will come from that.

I believe this - and so did Paul. In Romans 12 he writes about being transformed by the renewing of our minds. And I believe that what we put in our heads and keep putting in our heads can affect everything about our lives.

So when we read the Bible we are hopefully hearing something that will change our understanding about ourselves and the world. We are loved. We are called. God is good and faithful. God provides. And the more we operate out of those thoughts, the less anxiety and the more peace.

I ruminate on that thought in many ways. We are going to be looking into Stewardship campaign in the next few months and always there is the question of how do we present that issue. We are in a deficit situation right now (always have been) and do the people of the church know that? We need to keep telling them that we need more money. And the suggestion has been to say - if we don't give more, then we have to cut back on something. Which I find very uncomfortable.

And my internal programming (core belief) is that there will be enough money from somewhere. We can trust in God's abundance. I have never served a church where the pledges matched the estimated expenses and so I never expect that they will. If our pledges matched our budget, we should increase the budget so that we always have to trust God. And that while it is good to be transparent in all that we do - make sure people know the financial situation - the decision to give is spiritual and needs to come out of that relaitonship with God.

Thursday I was at a meeting with several other clergy who are in churches that are in the midst of transformation. At my request we had a conversation about stewardship and I heard the same thing from all those ministers. And for all of them there was the same understanding that I have. Giving is a spiritual issue and that it is not about budgets or deficits - but about the question: "What is God calling you to give to God?" One of the ministers who has served his church for 20 plus years said - that some years there has been a deficit ($30,000) and other years they collected more money than they needed and that the church goes on and on.

What I believe is that God has given us a vision and that God will give us what we need to fulfill that vision. And honestly, there is a part of me that is wondering how this is going to happen. But I trust that it will. God is so Good.

It starts with what you think (believe). And I think that God will provide. Wish I knew how.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

easy answers

We have been reading through the Bible this year. And now - this Sunday the book that I will preach on is Job.
I have been preparing for Bible study and reading ahead for the sermon on Sunday. And it seems that Job is about no easy answers in the face of suffering. And I read this and recognize how much I like the easy answers.
In the life of the church I watch people struggle with issues of aging and all the physical and mental deterioration that comes with that. We see people trying to recover from strokes. And then there are the relationship problems that are part of life, the genetic predispositions to certain behaviors. People with addicitons, ADD, OCD, perfectionism. All kinds of ways in which we struggle and suffer and the people around us struggle and suffer.

And I want - and frequently give - easy answers. About lessons in the midst of it. How it strengthens us. God is with us.

Last night in our book group we discussed A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving. Owen Meany knew that he was an instrument of God and he seemed to know that God was going to use him and what would happen to him. There was this wisdom and serenity in the face of it.
And that led us in our discussion to the nature of "call" in our lives. And literally everyone of us could talk about some element of their lives in which they experienced a "call" - to an certain exercise, to a career, to volunteer in a particular place. There are easy
answers to me in those positive experiences in our lives.

It is in the negative - the suffering - that the answers aren't so easy. I get so irrituated when I hear others give easy answers - patitudes about God's will and God only gives you what you can handle. At the same time - my faith gives me my own answers which generally come down to presence of God in the suffering and the trust that somehow God will use this later in ways that I cannot imagine. And God' s soveriegnty and mystery.

However, I am not Job. I have been tested some in life - but I have not personally experienced
the kind of suffering that I see in this world. Would these "answers" be enough?
I don't know.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


If there is anything I have been ruminating about lately - it has been memory. When I am with any of my peers, (people in their 50's) often the conversation goes to memory. There is a realization that we don't remember stuff the way that we used to. I think for me, it is probably right now, a blessing in that I cannot procrastinate. I have to do things as they come up because I can't remember them any more. But there is this sense of this the beginning of something?

Because my high school class celebrated their 40th reunion this month, I had contact recently with someone that I grew up with. I have not seen her for 40 years and was not able to attend the reunion. As we communicated a little bit via email I tried to bring up memories in my own mind of my life (and our life together) from 5th grade through 11th. And I don't remember all that much. One of the reasons why I would have liked to attend was to stir up the memories.
One of my friends has talked about being with siblings and doing "family archeology" and remembering is part of that. Because the events of our lives have formed us in ways we probably don't realize and my interpretation of events NOW in my 50's is often different from when I experienced things at the time.

As a pastor I have spent time this week with two parishioners who have real memory problems. One is in his 80's and the other has experienced strokes. Our brain is certainly a mystery - how some things are retained and others are forgotten. For each of these people, however, when I asked them if they wanted to pray "The Lord's Prayer" there was remembering. Absolute remembering.

As a preacher I often in sermons talk about memory - in the sense of remembering our blessing and remembering our miracles and remembering the very real presence of God with us. And I wonder - especially about the folks who in their later years have memory issues - how they are experiencing God's presence. And maybe that is our task - to visit and help them to remember.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Re Ignition Sunday

Today was "Re Ignition Sunday" - which some churches over the year called "rally day." It is the Sunday after Labor Day when we come back to church. And for us - Sunday School started today and the choir is back again and we are back.

We called it "Re Ignition" because we are restating our vision - ....that we are "Ignited by God, Changing the world"
We went through a long process the first year I was here. I appointed a "Visioning Team" and we met with small groups to discern our core values, our bedrock beliefs and then later our "Motivating Vision." That whole process took about 2 and a half years.

April 2006 We had "Ignition Sunday" when we revealed the motivating vision. Everyone wore their new T shirts - Red, course, which said "Karl Road Christian Church, Ignited by God, Changing our World." It was an awesome service. My friend Mary came and led the children's sermon, Kerry who had just started coming to church signed "I can only imagine" and it was amazing. The whole thing.

Now we are 18 months later and we are into it. We are still intentionally working at becoming more diverse by implementing our early worship service. Charles preaches that service and he is really inspiring. Deric is the muscian and he is wonderful. And we have some people who are absolutely committed to this worship - but we are not particularly growing. Today, 2 new people came who were literally walking past the church (in the rain) and joined us. Every week we have from 10 - 15. We are also continuing to help the schools out through providing snacks for the teachers. This is our 3rd year to do that and last year it seemed like we had less food brought by our members.

Now, here is what was interesting this morning. I woke up dreaming that I was in a conversation with someone from a church who was doing a visioning process. They were so excited about it. And I said to them - the visioning process is just the beginning. The hard part is implementing the vision. The day by day living it out. I woke myself up saying those words this morning!

And that is the reality. Our vision is that we are called to be an intergenerational, diverse, open and affirming church. And engaged in ministry here in the neighborhood where we are located.
And we are becoming that. Slowly.

I preached on Nehemiah and the people building the wall around Jerusalem today. And I was preaching to myself - as usual. It takes perseverance to live into the vision. And to not get discouraged. It takes Rally days - or re-Ignition days. It takes prayer, and remembering God put us here and encouraging each other. It takes faith.

Saturday, September 8, 2007


yesterday I ended up watching 2 DVD's. The first one was "Comedian" - the documentary about Jerry Seinfeld putting his act together after the end of the run of his sit com.
To put act together took months as he went from comedy club to comedy club to try out material and put it together with just the right words and timing and gestures. At first his act was 5 minutes and then 10 and then 20. It was laborious. And hard. There was one snippet where he stopped in the act and could not remember what comes next.

And, of course, he is a multi millionaire who did not have to do it for money. But he is a comedian and that is what he does. There were also parts of talking about the craft with other comedians.

It reminded me somewhat of what we do preaching. One thing I noticed is that everyone has their own style that comes to fit them. His was so meticulous. And he was always evaluating all of it. The difference of preaching is that every week it is a different sermon. And that is not all of what we are doing during the week.

But the smilarities are that we do have to find our own style and what works for us. I preach with a manusrcipt and often every word that I have written is spoken. Sometimes I go off of it - but not much. Over the years I have experienced preachers who preach without a manuscript who have acted like that style is somehow better - more guided by the spirit. And what I liked about this DVD was that there was none of that with the comedians. No one was trying to say - do it my way. Everyone knew they were each trying to find their own voice.

One other enormous difference between comedians and preachers. When comedians are effective - it is obvious - people laugh! When we are effective we often do not know it. I don't know how many times I have finished a sermon and thought - "oh well, I tried" - or "maybe I needed to spend more time" and afterward was told that I was "speaking to them." And of course, the compliments we do get are always suspect. "Good sermon, preacher" what does that mean? At this point in my life, although I get a fair amount of feedback from parishioners, I try to listen to my own voice about the whole thing.

The other documentary I saw was "Grizzly Man" about Timothy Treadway who lived for 13 summers with the grizzly bears in Alaska. He saw himself as loving and protecting them and being in a relationship with the bears. Eventually a bear killed him.
It was the story of a man who came to find himself less comfortable living with people and more at home in the wild with his image (delusion) of who the bears were and their relationship with him. It was interesting and I found myself thinking about the ways in which people project feeling and relationship that aren't true. Maybe it is a stretch, but it reminded me of my father and his feeling about his company - as if it were a person that cared for him. Later in his career, the company did not care at all about his well being. It was not a person - it was an institution.

Anyway, just some random thoughts.
Gotta go to a prayer retreat and on the sermon.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

daily life

A day in the life
Tuesdays are always big days for me. I do a worship service every week at the retirement center next door. This week, because I did not preach on Sunday I pulled out a sermon from about 10 years ago. The text was - "Come to me, Take my Yoke, Learn from me, for my yokie is easy and my burden light."
An amazing thing happened as I preached this sermon. I found myself inspired again. Learning over and over again the central truth of our life - that God will take care of us and we can trust God. And I recognized as I am speaking words to these seniors that I have grown to love over the years - that I need every day to hear "to come, to take the yoke, to learn." And so I do.

A busy day in the office. Putting together flyers for a retreat in December, a youth event in 10 days and planning for a retreat on Saturday.

A visit to the hospital to see someone who is close to my age who had a series of strokes. His memory is not working and he is not "himself." I prayed for him. When I saw him on Sunday he seemed to be doing better, but not today. It is hard to see all of this. I say words of hope and pray that God will work a miracle.

This evening meetings and more meetings. And we talk about a security systerm after the church was broken into, and planning for Advent and money for camp scholarships and how to manage two services on Sunday and not get in each other's way. This is the stuff that drains me - but I know it is also the lifeblood of church. It is everyone's church and amazing things can happen when we gather together around the table.

I am grateful for the people who take time on a Tuesday night to sit and sort through these mundane details - that if not taken care of will end up becoming real problems. I have read books by Eugene Peterson and I think when he pastored he did not go to these meetings - let the church people run the church.

I have always attended because that has kept me connected in different ways. But I am tired tonight from all of it.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Sunday Monring

It was so good to be back in church because I had been gone last week.

We have two services and the first one is preached by a young male African American. He has been preaching at our church for a year. I serve as the worship leader and do the invitation to communion. His preaching is very good. And while we have under 20 people in worship it is always (!) a good spiritual experience for everyone who is there.

Today Deric the musican was late and I always start on time. So I started with sharing joys and concerns and heard so many testimonials to the power of this little service that we do. It really has touched our lives. And I just feel blessed by it. The problem, of course, is that it is still - after a year - so small. And our finances in the church are shaky. There is a long story to the way this has come to be....but the bottom line is that it is worship, real authentic worship when we come together. And I believe that this is what God wants to us. And I truly believe it is going to grow. That is something I just trust and expect to happen. I have never been in a situation that was like this before....but I live in faith.

Our second service is much more tradtional. We tried something very different for us. A friend told me her church did this once and then repeated it every Labor Day because it was so inspiring. It was having three people speak about their faith in the work place. We had a lawyer speak, an auditor for the IRS and a teacher. And it WAS inspiring. I heard how God led people to their jobs and gave them power and hope to do their jobs.

When the teacher spoke I was so moved, I found myself in tears. She happens to be the cousin of a movie star and I was struck by the fact that she - in 20 years of teaching - has probably touched more lives in a real way than her cousin with all the mega fame that he has. The Kingdom of God is really upside down.....and that is just a little example.

So, I feel blessed by all of it. But by next week I will be happy to be preaching again.
I miss it.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

margot ruminates

This is the beginning of a new way of processing my life and ruminating on the mystery of God at work in the world.

Today is the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. It is the end of the summer and it has been a very busy summer.

I have been to Knoxville Tennessee for a mission trip, the outer banks for a family vacation, to Chautuaqua Institute for retreat and renewal, to Camp Christian for Advance conference and last weekend to Chicago for a wedding. Every experience has been wonderful in its own way and I have been so blessed by it all.

But now I sit in my family room doing that thing that I do to rest and regroup - watching Law and Order - and take a breath.

The life of ministry is - I think - different from many people's. There is first of all, the business of no weekends. When others are resting, we are gearing up for the big day. There is the challenge of work that bleeds over into the rest of my life. On one hand, in my head, I am often "working" when others think I am not. Thinking about the sermon, about projects, about issue....sometimes it seems like it never stops. There is the reality that the stuff of ministry - "God sightings" for a sermon, running into parishioners with problems can happen any time.
In my worst moments, I can get run down and feel depleted after a while. In my best moments, like today, I am grateful for the fulness of it all.

I remember one time in a sermon talking about having a "front row seat" to the way that God works in people's lives. Probably an overstatement. But surely I do get some glimpes of God's activity in people's lives. Ministers get to hear the stories about how people met, how they survived illnes, how they heard God's call in their lives. Those stories inspire me and keep me going sometimes. One thing I have learned in 20 some years of ministry - is that faith IS contagious. Our sharing our God stories can really make a difference.

And so, I guess this may be where I want to stop this first rumination. That must be what I want to do here. Have another venue for the God stories that are part of my daily life.
Share them and maybe somebody will share theirs with me.