What I’m Up to Now

Holy threads are hard to see. They are as invisible and hidden as God. Even when we can see threads stitched through the fabric of our existence, they are often jumbled and knotted. We try to pick up those threads but we cannot untangle them from all of the rest.

The poet William Stafford observes, there is a thread. There is a thread that you follow that can be hard to see and harder still to explain. And yet, even when it feels like it might all unravel, it feels important. It feels like there is something happening and so you can’t help but wonder. I’ve felt like this for a very long time.

If you’ve been following along with my adventures in the kitchen, you know already that I’ve tried many things. I got married and ministry changed. I would no longer be a local church pastor. I’m still holding onto this hope. It hasn’t yet gone away. It is still where I hope God will lead me when we finally stop moving every three years, but until then ministry will look different. And it already has.

I had this idea about somehow ministering to the military community. I began to get some training and tried to imagine doing this thing I had no idea. I went for some more training where I was asked to assert this purpose of the thing I was doing. I couldn’t do it. My heart wasn’t in it. I wasn’t an entrepreneur. Or at least, I didn’t see myself defined by the enterpreneurial model of my training. I felt more called to the local church then ever. And so, I let that idea go. From there, I found myself as an interim pastor and then as a consultant. I’ve found myself to be a writer and even been published by some small miracle. You might also know that I’m working on a book. That project is ever in the background as I try to understand my ministry in this time.

Years ago, when I was interviewing for what would become my first call, the search committee googled me. In that internet search, they found two postings to my college alumni notes. The first bubbled with enthusiasm upon finding my first job at a place that felt every bit as exciting as the art studio where I spent most of my college years. The second was more sullen and downtrodden. I was disenchanted, only one year later, with that same job and was instead applying to seminary. They wanted to know if my feelings toward their church would be as dramatic. They’d already had a rotating door of associates and they wanted every assurance of security they could get. It was, however, the wrong question. What they should have and could have asked me was how I was discerning my call at that time.

Frederick Buchner writes that the “place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I was still looking for that place and the truth of the matter is that it is never one place that God calls us.

God continues to work through our lives so that that call changes as we learn of new hungers and discover things that we never, ever thought that could make us glad. There is a holy thread of gladness that I’ve struggled to name but one that I’ve felt the power of in coffee shops and living rooms. I’ve been blessed — as a pastor —  to listen to all of those little stories that are being carried around that seem so insignificant. But, I listen. I listen and I share my gratitude for these gifts. I assure those that have entrusted these stories with me that they matter. Because they do. That holy thread has woven through the words I’ve tried to write and the interim ministry I’ve tried to do and it’s led me to this place where I am embracing the many years of spiritual direction I’ve received and stepping into the role of director.

img_1648You may have seen on Facebook that I sent a letter off in the mail to San Francisco Theological Seminary. In January, I spent the whole month in rainy California where I officially began a program in spiritual direction and began to pull all of these threads together.

I do not dare to suggest that this is the last place that God is calling me but it is where God is calling me now. There are holy threads that I hope to hold. There are stories I want to cherish. There is something about the art of listening that compels me and draws me near. It is with this hope and this faith that I share HOLY THREADS.

I stumble over the words when I am asked what I’m doing right now. I doubt that I’ll ever be able to say that I’m doing the hustle {cue music} as MaryAnn McKibben Dana suggests. (I don’t think she really says that, anyway.) But, the truth is: I am learning a new form of ministry. I am embracing this art form of spiritual direction as one of the many ways that I try to be true to my calling. It is, of course, because it is my calling that the words get jumbled. It’s hard to talk about this new thing. It’s hard to feel confident or even capable while still being a student even though I am certain that this is what I should be doing right now. If you’re curious about this new practice or might know of someone that might be looking for a directee, I hope you’ll check out my new site.

 

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Blinking Cursor

“Keep your butt in the chair. You do it at the same time every day. You never wait for inspiration — it’s ridiculous, it will never come. No one in your family is going to hope for you to be a writer… it’s not convenient for anybody for you to write, and you have to do it badly.”

So says Anne Lamott in her beloved book Bird by Bird.

I must admit that I didn’t like her book. I didn’t find much encouragement from this beloved writer in these pages. I preferred the words of Stephen King that I read last year when I couldn’t write. Even when I couldn’t write and believed I didn’t have anything worthwhile to say, King convinced me of his love for the craft. It’s something I missed in the pages of Bird by Bird. There were genuine pearls of which I remind myself every time I put my butt in the chair. I need to write some shitty first drafts and eat my broccoli.

But, most of the time, I just stare at my blinking cursor.

Yesterday I actually managed to do it. I put my butt in the chair and I wrote. I didn’t heed another of Lamott’s bits of wisdom. I didn’t write something completely new. I rewrote something I’d written way back when when I began this project. As you might already know, I’m writing a book. I’ve talked about it a whole lot but now I’m actually doing it. I’m writing about the thing I know best. I’m trying as hard as I can to tell the truth. But really, more often than not, I’m just trying to put my butt in the chair.

I don’t succeed most days. Earlier this week, for two consecutive days, I convinced myself that it was more important to write other things. I wrote something for New Sacred only to get an email from my editor after submitting it. It was incoherent, she told me. I attempted to edit it but I just stared at the blinking cursor.

Then, I gave up and clicked over to the other tab containing my sermon for Sunday which I was convinced was also incoherent and let’s be honest. Most of what I’ve written for this book is incoherent. It is gobbledygook. It is not intelligible and I shudder at the mere idea of sharing it with anyone acquainted with the English language, but I’m writing. I’m making slow and steady progress toward realizing this dream because I’ve always dreamed of writing a book. I’ve always wished I had the discipline. I always wished I had something brilliant and true to say. I’m still not sure that I have any of those things but I’m writing.

Or, at least, I am staring at the blinking cursor on my computer screen.

Each and every day, I think about the blinking cursor even when I’m not sitting at my laptop. I think about it at the gym and in the grocery store or while I’m reading something brilliant that someone else wrote. And lemme just say: there are lots of people who have written amazing things and sometimes I read their words and think I should never, ever put my butt in the chair. What could I possibly add? But, then, I remember that I love writing. I love writing for reasons I can’t even express so I sit down again just as I did today. I put my butt in the chair and try to make that stupid blinking cursor dance.

Starting Over Again

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My sermon ended yesterday with the bold proclamation that God is just beginning to do a new thing. The words have been ratting around in my head since I first typed them. Pushing and prodding and nudging toward this amazing possibility that no one really understands.

I have to be honest. The whole idea makes me a bit tired. Not just because the church is changing and the future is unknown within the institution but because it’s the reality of my life. God has been doing a new thing this year. God gave me this amazing gift of love. God encouraged me to follow that love and move across country which meant leaving the church I was serving. It meant leaving the life I was trying to create and start over again.

Let me be clear: starting over sucks. It’s exhausting to try to reimagine what life could be when you have gotten so comfortable with the way life is. I’ve heard these complaints from church members so many times and it’s not that I didn’t understand. I did. I do. And I’ve tried so hard to take my own advice — and that of every book on change I’ve ever read — and try lots of things. I’ve tried to throw caution to the wind and imagine crazy things. In doing so, I have had a bunch of failures. Last year, I started a ministry that started to gain some traction and then it tanked. Maybe I tanked. I’m still not sure but all of the sudden it was so clear that this wasn’t for me. I still don’t think it was a bad idea. I just wasn’t the one to make it happen.

Now, as this new year dawns, I’m getting ready to start over again. God is really, truly just beginning to do a new thing. This year, I will get married. (Holy moly. I am getting married.)  It is going to be an epic multi-day event with so much love and so much wine and so many beautiful people. And then, we move again. I get to start over again.

I’m trying to summon all the enthusiasm I can muster. I’m trying to live on the edge of hope and wonder even though — if I’m honest — the prospect makes me tired. Even so, I haven’t stopped googling. I haven’t stopped daydreaming about what will come next in the new year as I try so very hard to chart points on a map into the unknown.

Map Point #1: It all begins with a wedding. I am over-planning the crap out of this event because it’s what I do best. When I say it’s going to be epic, I am not kidding.

Map Point #2: Shortly thereafter, I will return to the place we call home now. I will finish my charge as an interim pastor at this sweet little church. I will bless them in their future.

Map Point #3: And then, I will join my beloved in this new place with lots of BBQ. That’s when the adventure really begins and anything could happen. But, rather than get scared and overwhelmed, the first part is to settle into this new place.

Map Point #4: At the same time I will be settling into this new place, I’ll be sending off applications to continue my education. Gosh. It’s scary to type this and name this thing I’ve been thinking about aloud. Now you’ll know if I don’t get in. Ack! But, here’s the honest truth: I’m seeking to begin a holy adventure into spiritual direction. It’s a call that’s been getting louder and louder so that I feel I can no longer say no. Fingers crossed, I’ll begin this educational wonder in January 2017 — but that means I gotta complete an application or two.

Map Point #5: Of course, I can’t just imagine one education opportunity in the new year so I’m trying to figure out when I might take Part Two of interim ministry training. I am loving the challenging work I get to do right now. I want to be better at it. I want to know all the things which means more education.

Map Point #6: Last year, as I started over, I get better and better about answering the call to write. I even got published. There’s a book I started writing last year — and one that I hope to finish this year. It’s a book about what I know best. It’s a book about grief encompassing those things that I’ve learned from the wonderful people in the churches I’ve served and the lessons I’ve struggled to realize over so many years of mourning my mother. I haven’t a clue if it will be published but it’s a point on the map this year.

God is just beginning to do a new thing. It’s just starting in the dawning of the new year. No matter how I might plan, there are things that I can’t pinpoint on any map. God will do what God does and surprise me with wonders. Or so I pray not only for myself but for you too.

What new things is God just beginning in your life right now?

Published, Printed and Praying

More and more, I’m answering the call to write. So much so that I seem to be writing about writing. This seems a tad ridiculous so I hope you’ll forgive me for this — but here I go again writing about writing.

You’ve already heard about the columns I’ve been contributing to the new United Church of Christ blog New Sacred. So that’s old news though maybe you haven’t seen my newest article over there. If not, you’ll find it here. My most recent article is about spinning plates. Go figure.

CHReader-Fall-2015-Cover-Med-Res-RGBThe other bit of writing I have been doing was for the Church Health Reader which my dear friend from seminary edits. For the current issue on trauma, I wrote a bit about the amazing ways that churches are creating sacred, holy, healing spaces for the veteran community. You can find the Fall 2015 issue here. Or better still, please subscribe to this wonderful magazine.

In the programs and models piece I wrote, I interviewed three different projects from the a really big church’s ministry called RezVets to two United Church of Christ pastors following their passions within and beyond their local churches. I created a piece of artwork to accompany the article. It’s a black and white sketch of one of the healing circles shared by one of these amazing ministries. The artwork is called Circle of Trust. It is my hope to use my Etsy shop ::May It Be So:: to offer a contribution to the smallest and newest of these amazing ministries. I will donate 50% of the sale of this piece of artwork to support the good work of the Touchstone Veterans Outreach at St. Andrew’s United Church of Christ. Find the listing for my original artwork here.

I can’t even put words to how amazing this ministry is but I hope you’ll read the article and get just a taste. You can find the Church Health Reader article online here. If the article inspires you, I hope you’ll click over to my Etsy shop and purchase Circle of Trust to show our resounding support for this good work. After all, it’s Veteran’s Day, and we should do more than say thank you — as I was reminded this morning here.

A Few Good Things

NEW_2519Just two weeks ago, I ventured to Cape Cod to officiate the wedding of one of my college friends. And you know what? Weddings are fun. I say this as someone who is super busy planning her own wedding and has a bit of grief about it. So, it’s a little bit of a reminder. Weddings are fun. No, really Elsa, weddings are fun. But, I wasn’t the bride this time.

I was the officiant. I was the one who got to say all of the things which I used to hate. In the beginning of my ministry, I would have much preferred a funeral. I still love funerals. Funerals are at the heart of my call story. They allow me to exorcise all of my demons. They allow a space for tremendous healing in the midst of the heavy load of grief. But, I’m really starting to love weddings. A few months ago, I got to officiate my little cousin’s wedding. (The picture you see here is actually from that wedding.) And then there was this one of my dear friend. And it’s just so good. I love it. So, I guess you could say that I’m available for weddings. Go ahead and contact me.

But, really, I don’t want weddings to be my main gig. So maybe don’t contact me. Lately, I’ve been devoting a lot of my time to writing. On September 1, the United Church of Christ launched a new blog called New Sacred. It’s only been a couple of weeks — but whew! The writing is awesome and I am one of the writers. My first post just appeared today in honor of the Pope’s visit. Oh, have you heard that the Pope in in town? I wrote about what went down in my neighboring city of Philadelphia. You can find it here. While you’re there, be sure to check out all of the other amazing posts. Hats off to Marchae Grair on this awesome project. 

As much as I am writing, I am reading. I’m reading too many books at once actually. It’s a small problem as I can’t seem to finish a single one of these books. Nevertheless, there are some really important books I’m reading right now with a group of people in something dubbed White Young Clergy Reading Racism. It started as a blog series that flopped and became a Facebook group. If you’re interested in joining our discussion, join the Facebook group here. The conversation will be better with you — and it’s the perfect time as we are just now wrapping up our conversation on But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations About Race. It’s time to choose another book — and we’d love your ideas.

Alternabook studytively, if you are really, really, really sad that you missed the first conversation of But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations About Race, head on over to my Ideas + Resources page where you can download your very own copy of this book study. Even if you’re not that sad. Maybe just because you want to confront your own racism. That’s an even better reason.

So, that’s it. That’s a few good things from me. How about you?

Called to the Local Church

This morning, while on the second retreat as part of the Beyond the Call: Entreprenuerial Ministry, I offered this testimony. It is a truth that I struggled to say out loud. It is a truth I struggled to admit to myself because I’m not the quitting type, but I am in the thick of the discernment. I’m trying to figure out the right path in this new arena of (im)possible things and what I’m finding again and again is something I already knew to be true: I am called to a local church pastor. I’ve been afraid that it is not possible. Loving my future husband has meant big changes in my career but it hasn’t removed the fundamental truth that I’m a local church pastor. Finding this courage and faith within myself, I offered this testimony this morning. In doing so, I’m clarifying my call. I’m quitting this entreprenuerial thing and recommitting myself to the ministry to which I’ve always been called.

Here is how I tried to reveal this truth this morning.

I keep going back.

I keep going back to this one moment in my first call where I was sitting in a coffee shop with a young mother of three encouraging her to believe the crazy, impossible hope that she wasn’t alone. It’s what the church is all about. I made an impassioned speech that boils down to this: this is what we do as the body of Christ. We carry that great commission straight on through to this very moment only to say, just as Christ did, “You are not alone. I am with you to the end of the age.”
She was quiet before she challenged me with this question: “Who does that for you?”

I keep going back to that story with that mother of three and her frustrating question because for the very first time in my entire professional career, I get to have church. I get to have a group of people that are ready and eager to be there for me. I get to have church because I’m in the Army now.

I’m not serving a local church. I left my second call and moved all of the way across the country to begin my new life with my future husband, the Captain in the U.S. Army, where I get to be part of a community. It’s not church — not really — but in many ways it is.

And I’m not willing to give that up. I’m not willing to give up the possibly of having that community within the military because there might be ministry to do. There’s ministry to be done. Of that, I have no doubt. There are progressive people in the military that are hungry for something — but I don’t need to be their salvation. I don’t. I don’t need to be the leader or the entrepreneur or even the first follower. Somebody else can do that work.

Because I keep coming back to that conversation with that mother of three. She hit it. I need community but there’s more than that. Something I didn’t really know until I helped out a colleague out a few weeks ago. A member of his church was dying. He’s on medial leave. He couldn’t go. I got that call — and as my fiancé told me — there was a light in me that couldn’t be put out. That light shined so brightly because I got to do what I loved most.

And what I love most is church. It’s where my passion is. It’s where my heart is. What I told that mother of three is what I most believe because I am a local church pastor.

I am called to serve the broken, bruised and beaten people that make up the body of Christ. It’s my greatest task — my very calling — to remind each and one of those people who dare to proclaim the impossible truth that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior that there is abundant life ahead. I don’t care how many people might say that the church is dying. That’s a crappy story and will only come true if we continue to say it over and over again. But, go ahead. Tell your sob story. Because what I’ve got is hope. What I’ve got is faith. What I’ve got is unending enthusiasm for something as simple and boring and radical as pastoral ministry.

I keep going back to this: I was made to be a local church pastor proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.

I don’t quite know what this means. It’s interesting to me that those that heard these words assumed that I’m still in this entreprenuerial thing. It wasn’t clear that this kind of work just isn’t in me. I only know that I’m actually supposed to be rolling up my sleeves not building a new ministry, but helping existing congregations renew and revive.

It’s this work that gets me most excited. It is my passion.

Called to Write

Whenever my dad gets the chance to talk about his daughter the preacher, he talks about how I write. He doesn’t reference his own faith journey or how totally and completely shocked he was that two atheists raised a Christian. I tell that story more than he does. Maybe I should tell it less because what my dad really likes to talk about is how I write.

He can’t write. He wasn’t a good student. If you’ve met me in person, you know that I get this from him. I can’t take a compliment and I’ll sure as hell tell you what I suck at before I tell you how great you are. Because that’s what my dad always does. He says he can’t write and then he talks about how beautifully I write.

And then he gets tongue tied and insists that you have to see it to believe it. It’s cute but more than that, this little song-and-dance has been an inspiration. My dad started talking about my writing before I thought of myself as a writer. He gave me courage. He gave me strength so that now I am calling myself a writer.

In the new (im)possible things I hope to realize, this is at the top of the list. Sure. There’s that military ministry I’m flirting with and the hope that I might serve a church again, but even my fiancé will say that this is my sabbatical time to write.

I’m trying to seize this possibility — buoyed by the incredible support of my fiancé — and actually write.

In the upcoming issue of the Church Health Reader, I wrote about three amazing congregations that have claimed the veteran community as their focus. They’ve created healing circles and mentoring programs and all kinds of amazing things. It was such a delight to talk to these people and even more fun to share their stories.

I’ve also answered a call to write for a new blogging community within the United Church of Christ called the New Sacred. It launches in just a few days and it promises to be an engaging platform for discussing what matters most. Keep on refreshing that browser until all of that inspiring content appears.

There is a deep reverberation in my soul in getting this chance to soak in the power of words. As many times as my fiancé has heard me freak out that I’m at the climax of my career and I’m unemployed (what the hell), it is so humbling to answer this call. To actually embrace this possibility of being a writer and especially to know that my dad is so very proud of me.

Disclaimer: Not all of my writing involves such profanity, especially not the sermon kind of writing. Sorry it snuck in here.