Sometimes there are no words

angel weepingSometimes there are no words for the things that human beings do to each other.

Sometimes there are no words to express our horror, or our sadness, or our fear.

Because we humans are capable of being so very inhuman. We forget that we have minds that allow us to think before acting. We forget that we were created to love. We forget that we don’t have to go through this alone, but we have friends and strangers who will help us get through the rough spots.

At the end of his life, Jesus had very few words. “I thirst.” “Forgive them.” “It is finished.” But in those few words he spoke there was no hatred. There was no blame. There was no judgment. There was pain in his words, of course. He had been in physical agony as he died. His spirit was in agony, too, wondering if God had left him there.

But at his core, Jesus was love, and so even in the pain of his dying, love shone through.

At his core, was Jesus expressing his human side, or was he expressing the God part of him? Because if he was expressing his Godliness, then there is no expectation that we should show love whenever we are in pain. But if it was his humanity showing, if that was Jesus the man who loved even at the end, well then, we are not off the hook.

Sometimes there is only one word that will get us through this life, and that word is love.

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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!