Holy Week

Holy week is

fits and starts.

The rush to get all the information in, to choose the scripture, choose the hymns, update the publicity; Maundy Thursday prep: check; Good Fridayprep:check;SaturdayprepcheckEasterSundayprepcheckaretherenougheggsforthechildren’stalk dowehavenoughenvelopesfortheofferingwhenisthebrassrehearsingandwillthatconflictwiththe placementofflowersandwhowilldrapethecrossandwhowilltaketheddrapeoffandarethebatteriesworking

Yes to all.  So we are ready.

 

And then

the waiting

 

The waiting for inspiration or the Spirit or my muse to show up and, you know, inspire

Waiting to set hands to keyboard, pen to paper, mouth to microphone

 

But really

it’s the rush of accusations, arrest, trial

rush of adrenaline watching the agony

rush to get things done before the sabbath comes

 

and then

waiting

 

waiting for the cold stone tomb to receive her most precious gift

waiting for the mystery, the light, life,

waiting for resurrection

 

Resurrection comes in fits and starts, too.

Too early in the morning, but they bring their spices anyway

No stone, no body, but angels

The women believe, the men do not

Silence

Then Peter looks in

and rushes home

amazed.

 

Fits and starts

and endings and beginnings

and

life

“I didn’t know girls could be ministers”

rev barbieSeveral years ago, while serving a church in the capitol of a midwestern state, I went to a friend’s bridal shower. Chatting with another woman there, we started talking about what I do.  “I’m a Presbyterian minister,” I said.  “Pardon me?”  she said.  I, more slowly and with more enunciation.  “I’m a Presbyterian minister.”  “Really?  I didn’t know girls could be ministers.”

Sigh.  I once told someone I was a minister and she thought I said “mistress.”  That one was pretty funny.  But my favorite is “you’re so normal for a minister.”  Sigh.

There’s a new twist on this whole female clergy thing for me.  This week our local paper ran an article about a new church in town, founded by musicians, worshipping in a cool space, growing, and attracting folks in their 20′s, 30′s and 40′s.  A member of my congregation emailed me about it, because they’re doing a lot of things we’ve talked about doing.  But then, as he noted, all the pastors are men, all the elders are men, and of the twelve member staff, only three are women.  They’ve outgrown their facilities twice since 2009, and they have worship four times on Sunday.  In other words, they are alive and growing.  Without leadership from women.

They are not the only thriving church that does not have women in leadership.  There are thousands of growing churches out there that do not allow  women into positions of leadership.  And that’s fine for them (not really) but sometimes I want to say to some of their people in their 20′s and 30′s, “Really?  It’s okay with you that your church does not allow women to be in leadership here?  That’s really okay with you?  What if that happened at your workplace – what if only men could be executives and directors – would you work there?  What if only men could be in management at your grocery store?  Would you shop there?  What if  only men could be teachers and principals?  Would you want to go to that school?”

To be honest, it ticks me off that these churches are growing without women’s leadership.  Then again, the theology in these churches would probably tick me off too – too much literalism and judgment, not enough questioning and grace.  There have been hints that one of the reasons mainline Protestantism is declining is because we decided it was okay to ordain women, that the church has somehow lost its luster, power and voice because women are at the table, too.  No, no, no, no, no.

So here’s the thing for me, today: if you want to go to a church, hear great music, hear a message that makes the gospel very clear, black and white without a shade of gray, if you don’t care that only men are up front and around the decision-making tables, that’s fine.  Really, it is.  Our souls are all fed in different ways.  But please don’t assume that your church is awesome because of the kind of music it has, because of its particular theological take, because women are not allowed.  If your church is awesome, it is because of the Holy Spirit, not because of anything you do.

Most days, I love being a pastor.  Most days I am grateful that I bring particular gifts because I am a woman.  In my twenty years of ministry, no one has left a congregation I’ve served because they called a woman.  (They left for other reasons, but that’s another post.)  There are folks in my congregation who used to attend those growing, hip churches with music they loved but left because they couldn’t bear the theology, missed seeing women up front, did not believe that God hates gay people.  They’ve found their way to us, and put up with the classical music that doesn’t move them, and yawn their way through a Sunday morning service when they would just as soon be sitting in a coffee shop.

I really don’t have an answer.  All I’ve got today is some good ol’ righteous indigation that these churches are thriving without women leaders.  Their loss, I say.  Sour grapes, they might say.

A New Thing

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I’ve been feeling old lately.  I have a tear in some tissue in my hip that’s causing me no small amount of pain and discomfort and causing me to limp.  I’ve decided to stop coloring my hair and am a bit surprised by just how much gray I have.  I turn 50 this year, and, well, that’s not the age of a young person.

This week I attend a church conference – a really good church conference – and I feel both old and strangely young and renewed and a bit excited about the future.  Because here’s the thing, at least for me as I limp into the conclusion of my fiftieth year: I’m not really afraid of the things I used to be afraid of.  I don’t really get too excited about pies in my face, epic fails, minor fails, or not being one of the Beautiful People in whatever circle I happen to be traveling.

There is a great freedom in not fearing failure. (I am so sorry for that alliteration.)  Not fearing failure opens up so many doors.  I lived whole lot of my life not doing things because I was afraid I would not do them well, or not be able to do them at all.  And that’s a terrible way to live – a safe way, yes, but a terrible way.  It’s more existence than living, really, and since we only get one go-round on this life thing, maybe we should live it.

Because I’ve been at this church conference, I think about what it means for the church to live and not merely exist.  Maybe some of you who read this blog don’t care much about the churchy posts, so you can just skip this one.  But my vocation and avocation are in the church, the mainline Protestant church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  This is the church that raised me, formed me, challenged my, called me, disappointed me, bored me, inspired me, gave me the best friends one could ask for, and where I found my husband.  It’s the church into which I was baptized and in which I was ordained and married.  I love this church and I want it to live, and not just exist.

That’s true for the congregation I serve.  I am blessed beyond measure to have been called, with my husband, to serve where I do.  There are not mean people in this congregation.  There are not people who complain after every worship service, no people who leave snarky notes in my hymnal.  They are lovely, faithful, honest people, and I hope they are ready because I think I am going home from this conference ready to light some fires under our collective patookies.  (Please substitute your favorite euphemism here.)

One of my favorite lines from the musical Mame is “life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”  Well, little baby Jesus grew up and gave us a banquet and we act as though we’re getting soda crackers and room temperature water most of the time.  To hell with that – literally.  To hell with the tepidness and things that won’t upset our stomachs.  To hell with fear, because that’s where it belongs.

Come Sunday, I’ll be limping into the chancel because of my hip.  But I’ll be dancing on the inside, up to the pulpit and around the table and down the aisle.

Join me!

There is an “I” in “Worship”

groovy jesusA few Sundays ago, as the deacons brought the offering up to the table and the congregation sang the Old 100th doxology, I found myself doing what I always do when singing that doxology: changing the words to make the God-language more inclusive.  It’s just a thing I do, week after week, my little stab at feminism in the midst of a tradition that is slowly, but perceptibly, moving away from patriarchy.

And then I felt like David when Nathan said to him, “You are the man.”  Not in the “you da man” way, but in the “you yourself do what you’ve been critiquing others for doing” way.  It all started with the Apostles’ Creed.

Our Presbyterian Rules of How To Do Things, otherwise known as the Book of Order, says that the Apostles’ Creed shall be said as part of the baptism liturgy, so when my husband and I arrived at the church we serve as co-pastors, we put the creed (which had been taken out at some point) back in the liturgy.  At first we introduced the creed saying the words I’d memorized in my early years of pastoring.  “Let us stand and affirm our faith and the faith of our church, using the words of the Apostles’ Creed.”

We got some feedback on that, so we changed the intro.  “Let us join in the historic tradition of the church, saying together the Apostle’s Creed, which the church has said in baptism for thousands of years.”  Feedback on that too, but it’s still in.

There are some people who really like saying the Apostles’ Creed, like the way it ties us to the ancient church; some of them probably wish we’d say it, or another creed, every week.  But there are people who really, really, REALLY don’t like it.  They don’t believe some or most of the stuff in there.  They don’t like the Father language.  The Virgin Birth seems to be a tricky part, as is the descent into Hell, as is the resurrection of the body.  (For me, Virgin Birth is non-essential; descent into Hell is another way of saying Jesus died; I love the doctrine of resurrection and believe in it.)

There are some people who don’t like to pass the peace, or to say “the peace of Christ be with you.”  There are some who don’t like opening the service with the words “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  There are some who wish we didn’t do Moments with Children, and likely more than a few who wish there were no sermon, or a more intellectual sermon, or a less intellectual sermon.  Some don’t like the prayers of the people.

You get the picture.  What’s a poor pastor to do?

First, I am grateful that people in our pews take theology seriously, and want to be authentic about what they say they believe.  We have a broad array of theological beliefs in the congregation, and I would have it no other way, because it enriches our conversation and our life together.

Second, there is room for all of us.  If I choose to sing different words to the doxology, why can’t someone else stand but not say the Apostles’ Creed?  Why can’t someone who is new to Christianity say “Good morning” and in time, may learn to say “The peace of Christ be with you”?

Third, we’re keeping the tricky bits in.  Sure, we could take out “This is the day the Lord has made”, and the passing of the peace, and the children’s time, and the sermon, and the prayers, and the creeds, and a lot of people would be happy.  A lot of people would be unhappy.  A lot of people would be comfortable that we don’t have complex things, or blatantly faithful things, in the service, but without those things, worship would be pretty watered down and if I went to a worship service that didn’t challenge me, or even make me mad or questioning just a little bit, then I might as well to to Starbucks, drink a latte, and read the Sunday New York Times.

Which a lot of people do.  But not those who show up Sunday after Sunday to sit in our pews, to sing, to pray, to get bothered, to be comforted, to be told they are loved, with all their questions and opinions and preferences.  They are loved, and so am I.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;

Praise God all creatures here below;

Praise God above, ye heavenly host;

Creator, Christ, and Holy Ghost.

But about that “Ghost” part….

Ashes, ashes, we all fall down

Cigar-and-ashes-0cI was thinking back to the handful of times in my life when I smoked a cigarette or two.

Usually there had been a drink or two or four in my hand,

which made me lose my inhibitions

which made me forget how dorky I looked when I took a long drag and then coughed

which made me forget how my mouth tasted like a cold furnace the next morning.

Nothing against smokers, mind you; it’s just not for me.

The other morning I stepped out into the backyard early to let the dog out and something reminded me of smoking, and the taste of ashes in my mouth, and my regret about all of that.

I suppose a few people have Fat Tuesday regrets on Ash Wednesday –

a few too many indulgences,

too much gluten, too many Hurricanes, too much, too many.

I wonder if Ash Wednesday is a day of repentance as much as it is a day of regrets. Regrets for those cigarettes and those drinks and the ice creams and the harsh words and the apathies and the lies and the cruelties and all those ashes that pile up, in our mouths and in our hearts and in our souls.

We really are all dust, and really, that is our only destination.

But out of the ashes, the phoenix rises -

And out of the dust life bursts forth, shaking off the dirt, proclaiming green in the monochrome scene.

So maybe Ash Wednesday is as much about hope as anything else.

Waves of Plumeria

This week marks the one year anniversary of the death of my friend Martha. It’s still so hard to believe that someone whose cup ranneth over with life is gone. The photos of her that have popped up on Facebook and our alumni magazine exude vitality and joy and hilarity that taunt death, in a way. But she’s still gone and we still grieve.

This Christmas my parents graced our whole family with a trip to Hawaii, which was wonderful and restorative, and the sprinkles of (let’s call it) family dynamics were few and far between.

On New Years Eve day, my sister-in-law, my nephew, my daughter and I went to a plumeria farm to pick flowers to make leis for the family as part of our New Years Eve festivities.
The kids loved it, and the flowers were beautiful, and our eco-hippie guide showed us his paintings (which we did not buy) and the coconut cups his son made ( which we did buy), and offered us poi and bananas. We made eight leis and went home. We rang in the new year in various time zones, and discovered that one can bear the weight and fragrance of a lei only so long before the sinuses clog up and the neck starts sweating.

New Year’s Day came and the leis began to wilt. We weren’t sure we could bring them back stateside but it seemed to me that to put them in the trash was a bit of a disservice. So I made a plan. Those who wanted would take the plumeria, freed from their strings, to the beach and toss them onto the waters, and remember those we lost.

In the end, only my husband and daughter joined me, mostly because they are good sports. My sister commented that I love ritual, but that comment was as close as she came to making it to the beach laden with flowers.

So in the surf we stood, my husband and daughter and I, and we began flinging flowers and shouting names over the roar of the waves.

Mike and Bud. Ann and Glen. Ruth and Owen. Beulah and Paul- the grandparents. Uncle George and Aunt Mimi and Uncle Jerry and Uncle Harry. Martha. My dear Martha. Gregg’s dear Carolyn. Marie and Dick, my friend’s parents, because if she had been there she would have been the first one on the beach. And the church people. “Mary!” My daughter shouted, and I added Hank. Janet and Wayne and Anne and John and Betsy and so many. It was great.

And then the plumeria all washed up on shore. Not the ritual I was going for.

You see, the flowers were supposed to go out to sea, in a Bobby Darrin sort of way – a reminder that our loves wait for us beyond the waves. But no. These loves washed up on the shore bedraggled and worse for the ritual.

Then I began to worry that in Hawaii it is illegal to throw anything into the pristine Pacific. “If anyone asks, we have no idea where these flowers came from,” I instructed my people.

I was disappointed, let down by my own petard. They looked so awful now, these pretty plumeria. Beat up, drowned. Dead.

But maybe that’s the point. Those who leave us are dead, and that is not pretty and they are not coming back. What’s left of them does sometimes wash up onto our lives, painful memories of the beauty or kindness or hilarity that are no more.

The next day I went down to the beach, and the flowers were gone, somewhere beyond the sea. Perhaps they have been gathered up, leis again, adorning our beloved a who are indeed waiting for us.

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A Different Valentine

no val“How glad the many millions of Timothy and Williams would be, to capture me;

But you showed such persistance, you wore down my resistance .  I fell, and it-

Blah blah blah.  Valentine’s Day is almost here, and once again, I confess I greet the day with a bit of indifference.  I’m really not much of a romantic, and if my beloved were to come home on the fourteenth with a dozen red roses and a heart-shaped box of chocolates, I would pretend to be delighted, but he knows me well enough to know that I would think it a waste of money to buy those things when they are marked up for a one day, over-commercialized holiday.

In fact, on the fourteenth, I will take my beloved to the airport in the morning so that he can fly eastward to attend the memorial service of a dear friend.  And that is way better than roses and chocolate.  I love roses and chocolate, but I love presence more.  There will probably be a card or two tucked into his backpack, maybe even some Moonstruck chocolate, but we won’t spend Valentine’s Day gazing with moon-eyes at each other over a bottle of wine.

When I was single, I hated Valentine’s Day.  There was no place for it in the life of this singleton.  All the commercials, the relentless aisles in the grocery store, the radio stations: they all conspired to remind me that I was a One on a day meant for Two.  Yes, my mom and a few friends would always send me a card, and I appreciated that.  But there was no way to escape the day.  I could go out with girlfriends, or stay at home with Ben and Jerry and Colin Firth, but it was a day whose end I always greeted with relief.

I’m married now, and that takes the pressure off although, truth be told, we usually haven’t done much on February 14.  But our child still loves Valentine’s Day, and she really, really wants us to celebrate as a family.  So I trot out the heart-shaped lights, and we make a heart-shaped pink cake to be eaten after a pink meal (steak for us, pink mac ‘n’ cheese for her, red peppers, strawberries, raspberries).  We spend arduous hours making Valentines for classmates, and for grandparents, and for single friends.  But I’m still ambivalent about the day, because I know there are a lot of Ones out there, and it’s a day advertised for Twos.

I wonder if there is a way to reclaim a bit of the holiness of the day.  It was (and still is) the feast day of St. Valentine, an early martyr.  Originally it was a day to commemorate the loving, selfless act of one person; might we recreate that sense some how? I have a friend who always donates blood on Valentine’s Day.  That’s loving and selfless.   Going to the memorial service of a dear friend is a loving act, and I am so glad my husband is doing that.  Surely there are other loving, selfless acts we might engage in that would honor the saint whose legend has spawned an unfortunate industry.

I’m tempted to buy all those heart-shaped boxes at the grocery store and hand them out to the guys sitting out in front of Peet’s, holding the cardboard signs.  I’m tempted to buy up roses and hand them out to the men and women working at the gas stations and grocery stores and the restaurants and the hospitals and the shelters and all those other places that don’t just close down.  I’m tempted to walk the halls of middle schools and tell all those poor, crushed souls that it gets better and everyone is a jerk in one way or another in junior high.

But I probably won’t.  Instead, I’ll take my husband to the airport, then I’ll help out at the party at school, then my child and I will do something special – get a pizza, and rent a movie, and call daddy and tell him we miss him and we love him.  I will call a couple of my single friends in an act of reclaiming that love is for Ones and Twos and Twelves and all of us.

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Keith Haring, Life of Christ Altarpiece