Archive | October, 2008

Is it Nov. 4 yet?

31 Oct

I understand that everyone is passionate. I’m thrilled at how many people are stepping up to vote this year and finally take democracy seriously. I’m proud of my generation for engaging in politics where and when they can. I’m proud of those who have never voted before that made sure they were registered.

I think it’s it’s wonderful that everyone feels led to speak openly about their opinions, fears, etc. My own views have been sculpted from all of the conversation that I’ve had over the past couple of months. It’s probably safe to say that we’re all more informed about where we are as a country than we were when this whole process started.

That being sad – I’m appalled at what the election is coming to. The negativity has to stop. I started to think about this when I got an e-mail forward from my mom. It was a “letter” from the left to the right, letting them know what they would be getting if all of the left states split from the right states and how terrible the U.S. would be if the left left and the right had their way. I didn’t respond to the e-mail, I just deleted it. Then I saw post that Focus on the Family put out a letter from the future today informing citizens what would happen if Barack Obama was president and what a terrible state we would be in by 2012. I’m appalled. Not just by the letter from Focus on the Family but also by the e-mail that’s going around getting the liberals all wound up about how terrible the world would be without them in it? How are we supposed to get anything accomplished with these childlike, pigtail pulling, dirt-throwing, ways of interacting with each other? Actually, scratch that – I’ll take someone pulling my hair over this outrageously hateful language any day. It’s so frustrating – as much as I want it to be Nov. 4th and as happy I will be when the election is over, I feel like this election is dividing us as a country. The passion we all half is driving us apart. As much as I know there are other pressing issues that the new president will have to deal with when he is inaugurated, I would hope that he would work quickly to reverse a lot of the negativity that has been caused by this very intense campaign.

Sometimes I think we need to let music fuel our actions …

Shed a Little Light
James Taylor

Let us turn our thoughts today to Martin Luther King
And recognize that there are ties between us
All men and women living on the earth
Ties of hope and love, sister and brotherhood
That we are bound together
In our desire to see the world become a place in which our children can grow free and strong
We are bound together by the task that stands before us and the road that lies ahead
We are bound and we are bound

There is a feeling like the clenching of a fist
There is a hunger in the center of the chest
There is a passage through the darkness and the mist
And though the body sleeps the heart will never rest

I love my Daddy …

30 Oct

For those of you who don’t know, my parents are diehard Philadelphia Phillies fans.  You don’t find many of them in Connecticut, but even throughout 30 years without a title, they remained faithful to their Phillies.  They remained faithful even when every other faculty member at my dad’s school cheered for the Mets, Yankees or Red Sox.  He was very outnumbered.

Last night the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series!!  My dad forwarded me the following e-mail that he sent out to the faculty when he got in this morning … 
SUBJECT LINE:  of Baseball and Teacher-of-the-Year

A VERY good morning to all……

Apparently, one of the perks of being teacher-of-the-year is that you get to have your team win the World Series! (who knew?!) If that carries over to other sports as well then we can expect Penn State football and the UCONN Women’s Basketball team to win their respective championships as well. Place your bets early. I could pick the presidential election but there’s probably some rule about that being a violation of school e-mail policy.

In honor of the Phillies World Series victory, everyone should download the attached picture and set it as your computer’s desktop for the day.

Is the cafeteria serving cheesesteaks today?
Bob Keck

Don’t Think

28 Oct

Here I am in week three of midterms.  My luck was unfortunate because of the way in which my midterms fell – two weeks of solid midterms bookended by two New Testament exams.  Four weeks straight.  I’m getting weary but still trying to push through.

I didn’t have Con Ed yesterday, so I was home working on a paper that is due on Thursday.  I was sitting on my couch and my gaze happened to look up at Leslie’s painting that is hanging above my fireplace.  I started to think about that painting and what her art teacher was trying to have the class accomplish when she was working on it.  When I first found the stack of paintings in Leslie’s basement, she explained to me that she was taking an art class in San Francisco and her instructor encouraged them not to think.  I’ve always thought that was a cool expression of oneself – what does your mind do when it doesn’t think?
Well, I had a different thought about this painting yesterday.  I was thinking about Sunday night.  Bruce and I went to St. Bart’s for the Compline – it’s a wonderful service of nighttime prayers – chanting, candles, incense, reading – it’s wonderful.  I was so frustrated during the service though – all I wanted to do was empty my mind and let the service fill me up and I just couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t get Candler out of my mind.  I cried.  I just wanted an hour where I didn’t think and I couldn’t do it.
As I looked at this painting yesterday, the thought suddenly occurred to me that perhaps it wasn’t that Leslie wasn’t thinking while she was painting; maybe it’s just that her mind emptied through her paintbrush and created what is now hanging above my mantle.  Maybe that’s my problem.  Maybe I have no way of emptying my mind.  If I try to engage in activities of “self-care” but don’t really have a way a releasing the stress and anxiety in my life, then am I really doing myself any good?
I’ve started knitting again.  I’m not very good at it.  I can essentially make scarves and blankets and really only know one stitch.  But I need to be creative.  I need to take my anxiety and let it rest in creative processes rather than on my heart and mind.  We’ll see if it works.
In the meantime, continue to pray for Bruce and me.  I’ve taken to saying “we’re in seminary” or “when we finish this program” because I’m realizing more and more that we really are in this together.  Bruce may not be in class with me but he’s walking with me on the path and experiencing the same highs and the lows.  It’s good to know that I’m not alone.

Just Gettin’ By …

22 Oct

I hate midterms.

First of all, I hate taking them.  I really don’t like feeling like my knowledge of a particular subject is being tested by very select snippets of knowledge that a professor chooses to put on an exam.  I don’t think it’s an accurate portrayal of what I actually know.
Second of all, I think they absolutely contradict EVERYTHING that we’re taught about self-care.  We’re told to get enough sleep, eat well, exercise and try to take a sabbath.  At the same time, we’re told to be prepared for all midterms, hand papers in one time with no exceptions while still being prepared for regular classes.  Um, excuse me, Candler:  How many hours do you think actually are in our days?
Third of all, I don’t think it’s great for the life of the community.  Granted, we’re brought together by the stress and frustrations of what we have due, but I just think that is a very “initiation-type” of mindset.  During college, I was always flabbergasted during pledging time because I always thought there HAD to be a better way to build community than high stress, hazing and dominance.  So what makes Candler thinks that it’s going to work here?  Wouldn’t a better way to build community be worship services, potluck dinners or long hikes?  Also – what about those who don’t find comfort in the misery of others?  Those are the people who fall through the cracks, who are isolated from the community.
Fourth, I hate what they do for my home life.  I don’t get to spend enough time with Bruce, much of my time spent with Bruce is me crying while he comforts me, my family and friends start to wonder if I’m still alive, and my ability to reach out to people in need falls dramatically.  Everything I’ve learned about pastoral care flies out the window faster than smoke from a chimney.
Fifth and finally, I forget why I’m here.  I ignore my sense of call as it is covered up by my anxiety and tension.  Right now as I see it, I will look back at seminary during my ministry and think of it as a terrible experience.  When God calls someone into the ministry do you think God wanted them to despise it so much?  (This is when I start thinking about Mary – “Let it be to me, according to your Word.”  I need to remember her difficult journey to Bethlehem as inspiration for me as I complete my journey through seminary)
Okay, so there you have it.  Midterms are terrible for five reasons.  1 – They don’t accurately portray what you know; 2 – They’re a terrible setup for self-care; 3 – It’s a terrible time for the life of the community; 4 – Your life at home starts to fall apart and 5 – People forget why they’re in seminary.
Please pray for me.

My Beautiful

20 Oct

Sometimes you just know.  

Between Friday afternoon and Saturday morning this past weekend, I had heard from my entire family (at different points) by e-mail that my childhood cat wasn’t doing very well.  I’ve gotten those phone calls and e-mails before, but this time I just knew.  She was 16 years old and I knew it was time.  After receiving the e-mail from my dad (the last one I got – Saturday morning) I prepared for the worse.  I started to cry because I knew what was coming next.  Part of me was glad that I didn’t have to make the final decision, but most of me just wanted to hold Tigger one more time.
I was seven years old when Tiggie came into my life.  We had adopted her and her sister and my sister and I were really excited that we each got to name one.  Bethany named Cuddles, a dark calico, and I named Tigger, a lighter calico, after Tigger from Winnie the Pooh.  I liked the energy that Tigger (from Winnie the Pooh) had and it became immediately apparent that this kitten had the same energy as her namesake.  She loved to play fetch with little pipecleaners, demanded excited attention in the morning as soon as you walked downstairs and slept with me until the year I left for college.  Somewhere along the way, I started calling her “my beautiful.”
About an hour after I got the e-mail from my dad, my phone rang.  It was the church.  I knew that wasn’t a good sign.  My sister, mom and dad were all at the church for the annual Harvest Fair and are usually too busy early on in the day to call.  When I answer my sister was on the other end in tears.  The vet had just called and told them Tigger was sicker than they thought.  She was in kidney failure, liver failure and was bleeding into her stomach.  They could have treated her but it would have been painful.  She was scheduled for an ultrasound on Tuesday but Dr. Krier wasn’t even sure she would make it to that.  She told Bethany they were going to have to make decisions and hung up.
I immediately started to cry, but told Bethany that they needed to put her to sleep.  I ached as I said it, but it’s not fair to keep her alive in that kind of pain because we long for their companionship.  I told her to keep my updated, hung up and stared at my pile of Christian Thought notes.  My mom called me an hour later and told me Dale was coming at 2 p.m. that day.  She was crying and I started again.  When I hung up the phone with her I crawled in to bed and tried to coax Lilly to comfort me.  I couldn’t call Bruce because he was camping and out of cell range.  I tried to keep myself busy, but couldn’t get rid of the pit in my stomach.  My dad called around 3 p.m. to tell me that it was over.  He sounded on and over the verge of tears.  That set me off again.  They buried her in their yard and were all trying to take a breath before going back to the church.  After I hung up I felt numb.  I know it was the right thing to do but I didn’t get to say goodbye.  When I close my eyes I can feel her soft skin and picture her running towards me with a little white pipecleaner sticking out of her mouth.  I know I haven’t lived at home in six years, but I miss her.  I miss my beautiful.
It’s strange how animals become part of your family.  They’re more than just good companions, they’re actually family.  I’ve been trying to pull myself together but it hasn’t been easy.  During church yesterday I broke down and cried, feeling vulnerable, yet comforted by the beauty of the sanctuary.
Now I find myself just going through the motions.  Today was easier than yesterday, and I hope tomorrow is easier than today.  And while I continue to pray for her comfortable release I also pray that more people find comfort, companionship and love the way I did with my beautiful.  It’s truly special.

The Golden Calf and The Strange White Wafer

13 Oct
Here’s the sermon I preached to Pilgrimage United Church of Christ this weekend.  The lectionary for the week was Exodus 32:1-14.  (Quick refresher:  When Moses failed to come down Mount Sinai, the people built a golden calf …)

When I was four years old, my mom was serving a church in Washington, CT, a small and quaint town. As a young person or family, this town wasn’t the easiest to live or pastor in. Most of the members of the community had been around for at least 50 years and had very high expectations not only of the pastors, but also of his/her families. One Sunday morning, in the spirit of ecumenism, our congregation gathered at the local Episcopal Church to share in worship and communion. My mom was excited about this service for two reasons. First, she was eager to show the community what wonderful children my sister and I were. (The two children of the Senior Pastor at her church were known around town for a being a little “rowdy” and she wanted to clear the good name of the PK) Secondly, this was going to be a new communion experience for me. At our church, UCC and historically Congregational, the deacon’s prepared communion before worship, cutting up loaves of white bread into small pieces and pouring grape juice into little cups. The deacons would bring the elements to the congregation one at a time during the service of communion; once everyone had been served, we would eat and drink together. This morning, I would experience for the first time walking to and kneeling before the altar and receiving the elements by intinction.

So there we were, my sister to left of my mom and me to the right, we walked up to the altar and kneeled before it. Now, I was skeptical; keep in mind I was four years old, this hadn’t been explained to me and I had no idea what was going on. But I was with my mom, so I just followed her example. She kneeled, I kneeled; she stuck out her hands, I stuck out my hands; she received a wafer, I – well, here’s where things started to get a little “iffy.” I had no clue what I was supposed to do with this little round, white paper thing that the rector had just given me. I looked over at my mom and watched her dip it in the cup as the cup came around to her and then stick the whole thing in her mouth. Okay, I thought to myself, I can do this. When the cup came to me, I dipped the strange wafer in it and brought it to my mouth. Cautious, I only bit off a piece. Imagine a four-year-olds surprise when not only did this strange looking wafer taste as appetizing as it looked but also when she realized that she had just dipped it in wine. Absolutely horrified, I took the wafer out of my mouth and shrieked “Eww, this is gross!!” To add insult to injury, we were in a stone church and my voice just seemed to echo all over. Horrified herself, my mom grabbed the wafer out of my hand, put it in her mouth and rushed my sister and me back to our pew. So much for redeeming the good name of the PK.

When I look back on that day, I imagine that the thoughts going through my mom’s head were probably very similar to the thoughts that were going through Moses’ head on Mount Sinai. Moses was getting ready to go down the mountain with Torah in his hand; he was going to hand to the Israelites – the people that he had taken out of Egypt, the people who he had saved from oppression, the people he was called to minister to – he was going to hand to them God’s law. God who had parted the Red Sea when Pharaoh was drawing near to Moses and the Israelites, God who had provide them water when they were thirsty and food when they were hungry, God who had called Moses to lead these oppressed people out of Egypt and then up to Mount Sinai. I have this image in my head of Moses proudly holding the tablets with Torah etched into them – the way my mom proudly held my hand as we walked down the isle towards the altar – when suddenly Moses turns around and sees: The Golden Calf. It must have been something of a let down.

Why did the people ask Aaron to make a visible and tangible God for them? God was up on the mountain with Moses. Maybe the more pertinent questions is: Why did Aaron concede? I’m not entirely sure that I know the answers to those questions but I can speculate by telling you why I reacted with such distaste to the Eucharist that morning at the Episcopal Church and it can be summed up in four words: fear of the unknown. I didn’t know what was going on at the altar that morning and it scare me. I’m guessing that the people that Moses had brought out of Egypt were experiencing those same fears. When they arrived at Mount Sinai and Moses went up to God, the people – who had left their homes and traveled across the dessert; who were tired and weary; who were starting to become wary of Moses’ promises and intentions – were left at the bottom of the mountain. They were left with the fear of the unknown. They couldn’t see what was going on at the top of the mountain; they couldn’t hear God as he proclaimed the Ten Commandments to Moses; they were stranded. There was no reassurance that they had made the right decision in following Moses. There was no visible proof that waiting patiently at the bottom of the mountain would result in good news and blessings. Who among us wouldn’t have even considered taking off all of their gold jewelry and saying to Aaron: “Aaron, make me a God!!”?

I think all of us can relate to this story. Did anyone look to see what happened to the Dow this week? Was anyone afraid to look to see what happened to the Dow this week? Does anyone else feel hopeless when they see inserts in the top of “For Sale” signs that say “Price Reduced” rather than “Sold”? How many of us are nervous about what the future holds for our investments? Has anyone been forced to make hard, but necessary cuts from their budgets in an effort to save and protect themselves in the event of another depression? A friend of mine, a single mom who’s trying to take care of her son by herself while she’s in seminary, turned to me this week and said: “Am I still going to be able to take out student loans next semester?” I don’t know. Who here has a fear of the unknown?

Is anyone eagerly awaiting November 5th? How about January 20, 2009? You know, it’s a shame we can’t make Moses come down the mountain any faster. So what can we do until then? Anyone want to build a calf?

One of my absolute favorite authors, Anne Lamott, remembers a poem as she waits for Moses to come down the mountain. She says in her book, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith: “I was still lying in bed when I remembered an anonymous poem I’ve seen several times over the years. It says that after we jump into the darkness of the unknown, faith lets us believe that we will either land on solid ground, or we will be taught how to fly.”

Faith. Now be honest – and you don’t have to raise your hand and own up to this, but be honest with yourself as I ask you my final question – how many of you have had your faith tested by this financial crisis? Have the “what ifs” take over and suddenly you find yourself saying: “what happens if I don’t learn how to fly?”

I don’t want to make excuses for the Golden Calf, but I do want to mention the one thing that the Israelites had going for them as they impatiently waited for Moses to come down the mountain: they had each other. I don’t know about you all, but Bruce and I have tried to be informed citizens and watch the first three presidential and vice presidential debates. I’ve heard the candidates speak a lot about how raising taxes, lowering taxes and reforming this or that or borrowing this or that is going to fix this financial crisis and bring hope to the American people. But I haven’t heard them say anything about the strength that lies in the communities that exist all over the country; the strength that lies in the community that exists right here at Pilgrimage United Church of Christ.

Bruce and I were up in Connecticut visiting my family at the beginning of September and we decided we had to take a swim in my parents’ new pool. For those of you have ever spent any time in Connecticut, you know that September is not really the end of summer; it’s the beginning of fall and probably not the best time to go swimming. The pool was cold and I was having a hard time being persuaded to jump in. Bruce finally looked at me, took my hand and we jumped in together. We jumped in together.

Strength in numbers gives us the ability to make positive and progressive changes in our lives. If you happen to live near or drive by someone’s house on your way to church, ask if they want to carpool and save a couple gallons of gas. If you have to run to the store, knock on your neighbor’s door and see if they need anything while you’re out – save them a trip, maybe they’ll do the same for you. Before throwing something in your house away that you don’t use but is still in good condition, ask around and see if someone needs it.

More importantly, continue to pray for those around you. If you don’t know what to pray for, pray for strength as everyone continually treads water during this economic crisis. Pray for peace of mind and peace of body. Tell people that you’re praying for them; send them an e-mail just to say hi and that you’re thinking of them. Pray alone and pray together. Waiting for Moses to come down the mountain won’t seem as agonizing if we wait together.

Pilgrimage United Church of Christ, it’s time that we looked around and embraced that strength that exists when we come together to worship; the strength that exists when we embrace each other during the passing of the peace; and the strength that exists when we take the hands of the people to the left and to the right of us and join our hearts and voices and sing together Let There Be Piece on Earth. Let’s take back our gold, take each other’s hands, strengthen our faith by joining it with the faith of others and jump into the darkness of the unknown.

Today’s Proof that God Exists …

8 Oct

… Rain.

This whole one car / Bruce working outside of the perimeter thing has worked really well so far this year.  We’re six weeks into the semester and so far Bruce and I have managed to coordinate our schedules with walking/biking/driving and we haven’t fought once.  I was impressed with what a green couple we’ve become.
Well, all good coordinating must come to an end.  Tonight is bell choir rehearsal and I went out on a limb and told Allen that I would love to play.  When I agreed, Bruce decided to try it out as well.  Bell choir meets at 8:30 on Wednesday nights, right after the choir, which meets at 7:00 (Bruce sings in the choir and is would be at church for that rehearsal anyway).  Normally this would be the plan:  Bruce would ride his bike to work, I would walk to and from school.  I would then drive to Marietta and either pick him up or he would meet me at the church and we would drive home together.  It really is a great system.  Until you wake up and it’s pouring.
There was no way I was going to let Bruce ride his bike 20 miles in the rain – it just wasn’t going to happen.  He would have gotten soaked and would run the risk of having a run-in with drivers with bad visibility.  So I had him drop my off at school and drive to work.  He was a little bit apprehensive about taking the car at first, but told me after that he really appreciated arriving at work warm and dry.  So that was definitely a good idea.  Here’s the problem – I’m left with no car in which to get to church.
Luckily, I have wonderful friends.  On a whim, I signed into facebook chat and Stacey sent me a message.  We decided that we haven’t spent nearly enough time together lately (well … any at all) so I told her that I would stick around campus until she got out of class, head over to her apartment with her and hang out until I had to leave for church.  At this point in the conversation, Gretchen stepped in and told me I could borrow her jeep.  How wonderful!!  Bruce didn’t have to ride and I can still make it to bells!!  AND – it’s RAINING IN ATLANTA!!  There’s proof that God exists.  There’s my Christ candle for the day.
Meanwhile, Bruce and I are probably going to get a scooter this weekend.  Today reminded me of just how nice it would be to have another form of transportation that is motorized.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be a car – in fact we would prefer it not – but it would be nice to have another way to get around, particularly on days when riding a bike for 20 miles is not only inconvenient, but also dangerous.  I’m glad we were graced with an answer today.
Meanwhile I’m preaching on Sunday for the first time at Pilgrimage.  I’m a little bit nervous because this is the first time I’ve ever been in front of the congregation in this light.  They’re used to hearing a phenomenal preacher week after week and I’m hoping that I will be able to give them something that not only will captivate their attention, but also nourish them spiritually and emotionally.  It’s a difficult time right now to be a pastor.  I know Wall Street investors aren’t having an easy time at work these days, but there is a point in the day where the market closes and there is nothing more you can do.  The day never closes for a pastor – and they need to be ready to see the struggles, tears, stresses and anger over this financial crisis in the faces of each and every one of their parishioners.  It’s a difficult task to take on – and I’ve done it in agreeing to preach.  I hope I can give the members and friends of Pilgrimage United Church of Christ some hope this weekend.


6 Oct

Bruce and I went for a bike ride today (well if you count 1 1/2 miles before I decided I was no longer in adequate shape to ride a bike, turned around and walked home a bike ride) and I saw a “For Sale” sign with a “SOLD” insert on the top.  That was sort of my Christ Candle for the day.  I haven’t seen a “SOLD” sign in a long time – the housing market in Atlanta is being hit hard by the national crisis and seeing that sign gave me hope that better times were on the way.

Speaking of SOLD – the church auction and “Taste of Pilgrimage” (pot-luck fundraiser for the youth) were last night.  It was a wonderful time for community building and we raised a lot of money.  The more time I spend at the church the more I feel like I am part of the Pilgrimage community.  Churches, as contradictory as this sounds, are very difficult to get into.  But I finally feel like I have found a home at Pilgrimage.  Bruce and I talked about the importance of community in Sunday School today with our high schoolers.  We asked them if they felt as if they were part of the greater Pilgrimage community and they all said that they did.  That was incredible to hear – a lot of times youth feel as though they’re only part of their own community and not the rest of the church.  I wonder how different the greater church would look if all youth were able to say that they felt a part of their congregations.
I’m preparing for my first New Testament exam.  Man, I hate the test part of seminary.  I’m really having a hard time finding the relevance between being able to remember facts and show my knowledge of them on a multiple choice exam and being able to pastor to a community (where I can always reference notes and books that I acquired in seminary when necessary).  If I don’t see the relevance and can’t make the connections then it makes it harder for me to sit down and actually do the work.  There are definitely times when I think it’s going to be a long year and a half + until graduation … 
Prayers for me to find the relevance and make the connection … 

Car Woes …

3 Oct

My car insurance agent left me a message today.  She’s been trying to get in touch with the guy who hit me back in July but hasn’t had any luck.  She called the insurance company that was listed on the police report and they have no record of his policy or the claim number.

Right now it looks like our only option is to use our collision insurance to get the car fixed.  What a waste – we spend lots of money on car insurance and when someone else plays the system we owe MORE money?

Bruce and I didn’t really want to do this but we had to call my mom to start intervening.  We’re in over our head and it’s still her car and her policy.
I’m sure one day I’ll look back on this and laugh.

Karma of Sorts …

1 Oct

Today is Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year.  My dad, the public school teacher that he is, had the day off from school.  Knowing that a Christian seminary probably wouldn’t close for a Jewish holiday (which I have issues with but that’s a conversation for another day) he called me to gloat this morning.

Later that afternoon … 
It was sunny and in the 80s and after Christian Thought Steven and I decided to go for a swim.
My parents had to close their pool last week.  My dad sent me an e-mail about the depressing state of their backyard with a closed pool.
Maybe I should have just let it go, but I couldn’t.
I called to gloat that I went swimming.
Some days you just have to bask in the little things in life that put a smile on your face.  For my dad it was a day off.  For me it was a walk home and then a swim with a good friend (and neighbor!!).  For the country it was watching the Dow Jones creep back up after tumbling over 700 points yesterday.  For the state of Georgia it was the possibility that the gas crisis will soon come to an end.
But what happens for the people who couldn’t find something to put a smile on their face today?  What about those who were affected but the stampede in India that killed over a hundred people?  How can I ask them to find something to smile about?
Finding small joys in times of crisis and sorrow isn’t always easy.  And while I don’t have any phenomenal insights into how you can tap into that hidden source of joy, I will say two things:
1:  When you find the joy, embrace the joy and rejoice in the joy.
2:  When you find the joy, spread the joy – reach out to someone in need.
With a little bit of joy,