Wednesday, July 22, 2015

When the Spirit Moves

Coming off a week away at the ELCA National Youth Gathering, I find myself in a strange place. So many are riding a spiritual high ... energized, enlivened and spilling over with excitement. I stood with them and am excited for them, but my spirit is pensive.

That is not to say it wasn't a spectacular experience. In no other place is there the same intersection of thought-provoking speakers, inspiring music, and service opportunity.

It was most certainly an action-packed, spirit-filled week. Yet, I am at odds. The thing is, sometimes the work of the spirit is not warm-and-fuzzy kind of stuff. Sometimes the spirit works to reveal the truth. And the truth isn't always pretty.

Sometimes the truth is that six days of traveling, serving, celebrating, and praising alongside high school youth is harder than you thought.

Sometimes you realize you are ill-equipped to handle the developmentally appropriate sighs and groans of complaint to what youth perceive as "routine" and "boring".

Sometimes you spend the entire trip tending to the details to keep everyone moving forward and maintain connections with those back home, yet find few opportunities to experience connection in the present.

Sometimes you find yourself longing for the familiarity of Mom's group meetings, Guide Huddles, and leading predictable adults.

Sometimes you walk away from an unloaded bus feeling less connected than before you left.

Sometimes you realize you have not taken care of your body as you should, and two full days of rest were not enough to re-energize physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

Sometimes, you have a renewed sense of call, but it is the hardest possible choice.

There is great risk in even saying these things. Who goes to a Youth Gathering and comes back disconnected? Who admits they struggled to connect?

The way I see it, if we are afraid of the truth of our experience, then we are not honest with ourselves and risk much more.

So I am speaking my truth and I will continue to wrestle with the movement of the spirit. It could simply be the fatigue of an introvert who experienced no down-time for six straight days.

Or it could be more.

 From what I know of the spirit, if it is more, it will certainly be impossible to ignore.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

One Month Until Detroit!

One month from today we will be halfway through our National Youth Gathering experience. It is hard to believe it is almost here. When we started planning less than a year ago it all seemed so far off. We have learned and grown so much during our Gathering meetings as we prepare to travel to Detroit and be present with one another, 30,000 other Lutheran youth and adults from across the country and the people of Detroit.

As I reflect on our preparations, I am drawn to our first lesson, which took us straight to the heart of our identity in Christ, as children of God. In considering what it means to be a part of the Kingdom of God, we were given the image of spectacles (glasses) with two lenses. The first lens through which we were challenged to look at the world was through the nature of Jesus, as revealed in the Gospel of Mark. Through our study we discovered Jesus as the son of God who came to suffer for us and with us.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

In Case You Were Worried: Love vs. Fear

So, here's the thing about living in a community of faith (at least in my very Lutheran tradition) ...
we're called to love one another, to bear one another's burdens and be present in each other's lives ... and we do so with the understanding that we are, simultaneously, saint and sinner. The people we are called to do life with will hurt us. They will blindly cater to their fears even when it means denying the opportunity to extend love to another in the form of trust despite fear.

It happens because we're all sinners. We all make mistakes. We are selfish and difficult and self-centered.

And yet because we know that we are all both (saint and sinner) we are called to continue to live in relationship with the very person who is prioritizing fear over love. Even when that causes us pain.

And sometimes that sucks (which, according to Bishop Eaton, IS a theological term).

Which brings me to the readings for today (if you didn't know there were readings for every day of the year, check out the Revised Common Lectionary Year B, it's a great way to get into the Bible every day without the pressure of reading the Bible in a year type of program. Worth checking out.)

The first reading is Numbers 6:22-27

The Priestly Benediction
22 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 23 Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,

24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
27 So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.

If you've attended a traditional protestant worship service in the last couple of decades, you've probably heard these words spoken. So here's the thing ... in the Bible this blessing immediately follows a bunch of rules about how the Israelites were to set themselves apart from the surrounding culture.

In this particular time and place the way to set yourself apart was by your behavior. Through Moses, God provided the Israelites ways of behaving that set them apart as God's people.

Today's next reading is Mark 4:21-25

A Lamp under a Bushel Basket
21 He said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? 22 For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. 23 Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” 24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. 25 For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”

"The measure you give will be the measure you get." Could this be in reference to extending love and risking fear? Hard to tell. But as I ponder this verse tonight I cannot help but think that we are, always, encouraged to extend love in all circumstances.

Finally, Psalm 20

Prayer for Victory
To the leader. A Psalm of David.

1 The Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
    The name of the God of Jacob [Israel] protect you!
2 May he send you help from the sanctuary,
    and give you support from Zion.
3 May he remember all your offerings,
    and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices. Selah
4 May he grant you your heart’s desire,
    and fulfill all your plans.
5 May we shout for joy over your victory,
    and in the name of our God set up our banners.
May the Lord fulfill all your petitions.
6 Now I know that the Lord will help his anointed;
    he will answer him from his holy heaven
    with mighty victories by his right hand.
7 Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses,
    but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God.
8 They will collapse and fall,
    but we shall rise and stand upright.
9 Give victory to the king, O Lord;
    answer us when we call.

So, here's the thing. God will be by your side. The Lord will protect you. It doesn't say that God will spare you all harm, pain and trouble and bring your heart's desire RIGHT NOW.

But the victory will be HIS.

And if God is love, as demonstrated by Christ on the cross ...

Then love will win and fear will be defeated.

So, as people of the Resurrection, we live knowing that love will defeat fear, our geeky terminology for it is that we live in the "now but not yet."

And we remember that in Christ, God has defeated sin and death ... all fear.

Love wins.

Yet on earth we still live in the midst of heaven not yet realized.

So, if we want to see that glimpse of love when we are surrounded by a culture of fear, we must respond to fear with love.

And that is far more difficult than the set of rules God asked the Israelites to live by. At least they had a measuring stick ... good enough ----> not good enough.

In Christ that measuring stick is gone. We are simply saved, by grace. And we are called to respond to that amazing saving grace in our love and care for the world around us, full of sinner/saints.

So, we are still set apart, like the Israelites but so very differntly.

"And they will know us by our love ..."

Which means that grace is, truly, the biggest kind of brave.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


Writing is, for me, a therapy of sorts. It's the place I can work out my complicated questions, flesh out my thoughts and come face to face with myself. I suppose it is telling that it has been 8 months since I spent any time writing for the pure exploration of it.

Yet, today I found myself in grave need. Opportunities to learn and grow are not what I had hoped and for the first time in a long time I find myself just plain sad. Anger, pain .. they materialize for so many women as tears of sadness. For so long I have had the false armor of medication to absorb the blows of life's disappointments and loss. As I attempt to go it on my own, it is another thing entirely to fully experience the pain of rejection and the sadness of realization that those for whom you would give your heart and soul are not willing to put their trust in God working through you.

So, tonight, I read. Books have always been my best escape, my surest teacher and my kindest friend. I dearly love the words of Glennon Doyle Melton and her transparent honesty as she bares her humanity to the world ... eating disorder, addictions and all. I found these words particularly profound this evening,

"So for me, it's not a question of better. It's about a daily choice; the constant battle to listen to Love and silence Fear. Of course, even though I choose Love daily, I can still hear the reverberations of Fear's voice, like a bell that keeps echoing even after it's been stilled. Right now I am neither Fear nor Love, but the one who chooses between them. However, I have a feeling that after years of choosing Love, after decades of ignoring Fear and turning into Love, I will turn into Love. I pray that she and I will become one, that eventually all the words that come out of my mouth will be her words. And that when I slip into the arms of God, it will be as if there were no break at all in our eternal conversation. When I die, God will look at me and say, 'Now where were we, Darling?'"

And this ...

"There are only two lives we might live; our dream or our destiny. Sometimes they are one in the same, and sometimes they're not. Often our dreams are just a path to our destinies. My dream was to be an adoptive mother, but my destiny is to mother my three children, to be a wife, sister, friend, and daughter, and to speak hope boldly to you. My destiny is to remind you to look up from the castles you're building in the sand long enough to notice the cathedrals that God's building all around you, without you ... while you dream your dreams, he's busy building your destiny. And there is as much beauty in your destiny as there was in your dream. Let go and believe that whatever it is, it will be beautiful."

From Carry On Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed

So when one dream dies, one door closes (pick you clique) ... keep your eyes open for your destiny.

Or, for tonight, simply let the sadness be. Grieve the loss but rest in the assurance that we are called forward from death into new life.


Friday, November 28, 2014

Stretched, tired and Thankful...

A four-day weekend is a glorious thing ...

I'm not sure my husband would agree. When I looked at him this morning and suggested "picking up" a Christmas tree and another storage shelf that would allow us to better organize the boxes in the basement and get to the Christmas decorations, I might as well have punched him in the gut.

At any rate, despite almost losing his breakfast at the suggestion, my sweet husband proceeded to spend the next two hours tracking down the requested items and hauling them home in a truck borrowed from our dear friend.

This wouldn't seem like such a harrowing task be it not for the weeks that preceded. Last Thursday night we had to rush Scott's dad, George, to the hospital via ambulance for breathing trouble that turned out to be pneumonia and scored him a week-long stay, 3 of which were in ICU. Having just accepted a promotion to replace his boss who retired, Scott was more than a little stretched to take time off to be with his father in addition to staying on top of the additional responsibilities of his new position and the many typical urgent end of the year projects.

Add to that the early onset of frigid temperatures and the stir-crazy children that produces and our 8, 6 and 4 year old darlings have been more than a little challenging of late.

Which brings us to this morning.

What, on earth, possessed me to need these things accomplished today?

I really have no idea, other than the fact that in my late thirties I am realizing I have two speeds ... full-steam ahead or asleep. If I am not actively working to complete a goal, I have a hard time being motivated by the mundane (It shouldn't be a big surprise that stay-at-home-motherhood is more than a bit challenging for me.)

And I saw three days ahead of me and realized I could either start the momentum or potentially end up having wasted the entire time looking forward to my next nap. Not that naps are a bad thing. I regularly enjoy and celebrate them, but given the prospect of four unstructured days, it could have gotten completely out of hand.

Scott's brothers arrived shortly after 1 p.m. to our disheveled home as we attempted to get the Christmas tree upright in its stand and proceeded to assemble the storage shelf and rearrange the boxes. Quite the welcome to our home!

Then the Christmas tree fell. And we had to buy a new tree stand for our enormous tree. And I thought that was the end of Christmas trees at our house. But we got it upright, yet again.

So, this is us. This is our home these days. We're stretched. We're trying. We're tired. But we're putting one foot in front of the other and savoring each moment. And I'm so thankful  for a husband willing to drag himself out despite exhaustion and mental and emotional drain.

And I plan for him to have a restful, relaxing day tomorrow, and I'm so thankful he's mine.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Day 2 Reflections at Rethinking Faith Formation

I will begin by admitting Day 2 of Rethinking Faith Formation wore me out. Upon returning to my room after dinner I lay down and promptly fell asleep. Now I am awake writing this and have a four hour drive tomorrow after the morning session. I'm not sure this is wise, but alas, if I wait until I get home I will never have a chance to just sit down and write while this is still fresh.

In addition to yesterday's joys and sorrows, today I came away with a growing sense of that some of the pastors with whom I was interacting lacked confidence in the people they serve and the great and mysterious power of the Holy Spirit to risk the failure of an idea in order to achieve greater growth in faith formation as a whole. I have experienced this myself, and it troubles me greatly. What to do with that? I do not know. I will continue to risk failure boldly.

In our opening reflection, Rolf Jacobsen challenged us to consider what "Mature Christian Faith" might look like. After eliminating worship attendance, giving and prayer as options we were turned over for discussion. We had a difficult time articulating any measurable characteristics that were quantifiable in our group of three. Instead of an answer, we were drawn to question, is faith quantifiable?

Our presentations today included Amy Sevimli, assistant to the Bishop in the Washington DC Metro speaking on how to mentor people into faith. She used an illustration of a young man who continued to seek his pastor out as spiritual adviser, raising the question "I want to have a closer relationship with God, I just don't know what to do?" The pastor quickly realized this would take a dedication of time and intention she could not provide in her current role. In seeking a mentor for the young man, members of her congregation said they did not feel equipped to do so.

Amy went on to describe her intentional interactions with adults in the 18-24 age group (those without children) to listen to why they do not attend worship. The answers she heard were supported by research  conducted in recent years. These young adults said:

  • Preaching sounded more like op-ed page of the New York times
  • Never clear that mainline church really cared about God
  • They were often experiencing Good News as Law instead of Gospel
  • One young women mentioned in other church she experienced Grace in the preaching as she never has in 27 years in the Lutheran church
  • Preaching matters
    • Intention
    • Purpose
    • Mission -- who are we called to be in this time and place?
  • Young adults who show up in church are looking for God
  • There are a lot of young adults who don’t go to church who are totally open to God, many are even looking for God, but when they show up, we aren't speaking or living in ways that address the questions, trial, things with which they struggle.
Amy outlined the process she worked with this pastor to implement, a process by which the pastor used intentional faith formation small groups to begin a process of formation throughout the congregation, starting with one group of leaders who them became leaders of their own groups, and so on and so forth. The requirements of the group were:

  • 60-90 minutes a week (Google + Hangouts used to facilitate if unable to attend)
  • Need to be willing to talk about Bible, theology, faith, real life
  • Deep conversations about what it means to be a mature Christian in life
  • How/what do I want to do differently?
  • After 9-12 months, meet less frequently and that you will lead someone else
  • Might look like you are starting to ignore things in the organizational chart to focus on Faith Formation
  • Each faith formation group will give them language to talk to friends family/invite people 
  • It will be simple, but hard
Amy closed with the story of Jesus and the rich man and suggested that as the church we are like the rich man, we have done everything "right" that we know and have been trained to do. We have abundance in the sense our traditions that we know and love and to which we are attached. But it's not working, Despite the most faithful implementation of the current models, our people do not feel equipped to walk in faith beside another. So, we return to Jesus, saying "it's not working!" And Jesus says to us, "I care about these people who don't get what you're doing, give up your stuff (all those traditions you hold dear) and follow me."

And we are left with the challenge: will risk giving up what we know to follow Jesus call?

In so many ways Amy's talk resonated with the intuitions I have had as to where we most need to be putting our time and attention over the last three years in ministry position. I found her message affirming, empowering and challenging. Yet my heart breaks for the conversations I had afterwards in reflection groups for the number of individuals who continued to focus on what wasn't working in their contexts and were using these failings to suggest this model wouldn't work either without daring to put them down and entrust a new venture to God's care.

I am thankful for my position where I am not bound by worship attendance, giving or seminary training in what is "right worship" that might inhibit my ability to feel a sense of the Spirit's moving and simply trust that if it is of God it will flourish and if it is not it will die away. 

I am reminded of where this yearning began, five years ago as I began to sense the pull of the Spirit to open my eyes to the needs around me. As it turns out, that was not the context in which God would use me. Yet as I've allowed the Spirit to refine and shape my vision as the circumstances around me change, the formation of faith in all of God's people, as introduced by Amy Sevimli in her presentation, continues to be paramount. Some visual notes on Twitter courtesy of Steve Thomason Part I and Part II

From Amy Sevimli's presentation we moved into a discussion of a world that we can no longer accurately describe as "online" but instead "augmented reality" as interacting face to face and digitally become more integrated into our everyday life. Deanna Thompson presented a story through which we came face to face with the many ways the wired world allows us to be present with one another as the body of Christ as she experienced when she became an invalid in her treatment for Stage 4 cancer. You can see visual notes that reacap that discussion on Twitter

Dan Taylor continued the discussion to introduce the importance of story, ours and the Great Story. Part of faith formation is teaching people how to tell their story of faith so that they know it (because we cannot know what we don't articulate) but also so they can share it. More visual notes on Twitter Part I and  Part II.

Then the energy and passion of Lois Malcom launched onto us a discussion of the Holy Spirit's work in this formation process. I am still receiving and digesting her message and its many sides and nuances as I transfer my scribbled notes (drat that laptop battery!) and apply the truths she spoke in terms of leading into faith formation in my context and the greater church. Awesome visual notes on Twitter Part I and Part II.

We finished the day with Dorothy Bass and a discussion of the role of wisdom that was either too unstructured for my balance-seeking brain or for which my brain was too full to process. At any rate, my takeaway was that "Wisdom is knowing which story to tell when," and that when we see wisdom in others we must lift it up. We must name it honor it and notice it. I have to say, both of these statements ring true of my friend, Ruth, and I continue to process how powerful it can be to call that out in those around us as we see God's writing on the hearts of those in our midst. More visual notes.

So there it is, friends. I've probably already lost those of you who aren't church nerds, and for that I'm sorry. Please come back again when I promise to ply you with reflections on the more relate-able topics of motherhood and faith in general.

Now I really should sleep.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

... From Ironies to Takeaways ...

So, I'm attending a Rethinking Faith Formation seminar in St. Paul Minnesota at Luther Seminary (hence last night's post of random ironies). The first half-day of presentations has certainly raised some questions, affirmed some things I already knew, and challenged me both personally and professionally. And so, I offer, my takeaways from Day 1.

~~ Flip flops are not good footwear for campus walking. I knew this, and yet that is all I brought other than my running shoes. Ouch.

~~ Checking-in a half hour before opening worship was still too early for my introverted soul to sit in the narthex full of people I do not know and awkwardly read things on my phone.

~~ The Chapel of the Incarnation in Luther Seminary's Olson Center is not a comfortable place to spend all day sitting, especially if one is trying to take notes on a laptop and maybe sip a cup of coffee on and off.

~~ ELCA pastors and lay ministers are a diverse, interesting, thoughtful, intelligent, sometimes awkward group of people to gather into one place.

~~ Worshiping with a group ELCA pastors and lay ministers (and many from other denominations) is a truly wonderful experience ... no bumbling through songs and plenty of strong voices to carry and sometimes harmonize the tune.

~~ I can have intelligent, thoughtful conversations with pastors and lay ministers and have things to contribute to the conversation.

~~ There are some very discouraged, jaded pastors out there. How do pastors continue to hope in the power of our God of Great Love and Big Things when the world around is changing and they were not equipped to adapt?

~~ I am even more confused exactly where God is calling me. Good thing, like the manna in the desert, I only need trust that he has provided enough for today. I cannot store it up, lest it spoil, and if I could see into the future I would only be fearful and confused. Trying to guess God's plan for the future is hubris. Trusting in God is the source of all wisdom.

And if you're interested in my actual seminar takeaways ... enjoy!

David Lose Presentation

~~ Said that upon watching his children perform the "Double Bach" he considered what it would have looked like if they had come every week and watched their teacher play the violin. They would have learned appreciation for the skill/art. They would learned some awareness of good method, etc. But would they have learned to play for themselves?

~~ What would it mean to make church less a "performance of faith" by the "professionals" and more of an act of formation, such that the people might develop faith practices by practicing them, instead of watching them practiced?

~~ The earliest Christians were not called "Christians" but "People of the Way". Are we showing people "the way?"

~~How can we begin to hand worship back to the congregation so worship is not just performance, but formative? 

Roger Y, Nishioka Presentation

~~ From a Muslim Imam "You are Christian, are you not? So speak as a Christian? It is very difficult to have a conversation with someone who is not speaking." How do we speak like Christians? 

~~ Military Colonel explaining the repetition of drills "In times of crisis you will not rise to the occasion, but fall back on a pattern. We are trying to set a new pattern." The training has to be what they know best. Isn't that also true of our faith? In times of crisis what pattern do we return to?

Laura Traux Presentataion

~~ What I learned walking through a divisive, difficult congregational conversation:

  • God is always on the side of the oppressed
  • I don’t get to choose which is oppressed
  • Importance of humility: God is beyond us
  • No change is sustained by anger – only love produces long-lasting transformation
  • Just like Jacob, we’ve learned to walk with a limp
~~ “Good communities are spaces where people love one another enough that they’re not afraid of disagreement.” Stanley Hauerwas

~~ Jesus Communities were

  • Forgiving
  • Confused
  • Devoted
  • Argumentative
  • Honest
  • Diverse
  • Honest
  • Forgiving
  • Unexpected
  • Angry
  • Holy
  • Questioning