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?

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Pegged as a Radical Feminist

I preached a sermon recently in which I was pegged as a radical feminist. Not just a feminist but the radical kind. The kind that no doubt burns bras and hates men. This comment was made to me with grave concern. So he said: I should be aware of how I come across. I should be careful of how I am perceived especially when I find myself in the midst of search and call.

FeminismWhen this careful advice was offered to me, I was initially pissed off. I held my own in the conversation. I tried to be as open and honest as I could while a piece of me was rolling on the floor laughing.

For you see, I am not a radical feminist. Not by my own definition anyway. If you happen to think that feminism is the radical notion that women are people, then you have got me pegged. I’m far left of that.

I want to believe that we can exist in a world where these labels don’t matter. But, as much as I want to believe that’s possible, I know that there are still some places where I’m a radical feminist because I use feminine pronouns for God. That was the problem with this sermon. I dared to talk about God as if she had hips that swayed and boobs that bounced as she walked through the garden. Ok, I didn’t take it that far but I could have — and I’ve been spoiled by pastoring congregations that are disappointed when I haven’t gone that far. There may not be many of these churches, but the last church I served wanted more social justice. They were impatient and frustrated when I didn’t give them more. There were some that thought I was weak or even conservative because I wanted to find some balance between the extremes.

I waited a long time for this particular call. They weren’t perfect — and I wasn’t their perfect pastor. But I waited for them because I wanted to serve a church where I wouldn’t have to worry so much about feminine pronouns. I wanted a church where I could be authentic. I wanted to be real. I wanted to be who and what I am and be able to tell the real story of my faith without having to change the words. I waited two long years in search and call before I found this church who wouldn’t be afraid that their pastor was a feminist. They actually kinda liked that about me. And it’s something I really liked about them.

On my morning run, I wondered if this was a mistake. Maybe I should listen to the wise counsel of this caring person. I wondered this because earlier this week I had sent an email to someone pretty important in the church world asking for some guidance with Beyond Acronyms. I haven’t heard back — and perhaps that is my fault. Because it wasn’t a very professional email. It was one of those rambley emails with a heavy dose of my own self deprecating humor. Perhaps not the right tone, but then I remembered what led me to be called to my last church: I want to be my most authentic self. I don’t want to have to manipulate my tone and humor all of the time. I want to try to live into the amazing possibility that I might be enough just as I am. I am not perfect and I’m not trying to be — but I am my self. I am not trying to hide anything.

I’m trying to be my most authentic self.

In the Middle of the Story

The question always comes up in Bible Study when we find ourselves talking about Jesus. Somewhere in the middle of the Gospel, no matter which Gospel we’re reading, we find ourselves studying a particular passage after he’s born and before the real trial has begun. There’s just been a healing or some other sign. And someone will imagine how Jesus feels at that very moment.

I ask them to stay within the story. I ask them not to jump ahead. Or read outside of the selected verses because it’s so very hard to stay in that moment. We know the whole story. We know how the story will end. We know what will happen to Jesus. We know what we’ve been taught about him so that it’s so very hard to stay in the moment. It’s hard not to hear the hymns we’ve sung for years and the creeds we thought we’d long forgotten reverberate against the words in that particular passage. Because it’s all there. No matter how hard we try to push it away and just be in that moment in Christ’s life. It’s all there.

But, that’s not how it is in our lives. We are in the middle of the story. We don’t know how it’s going to end up. We don’t know what’s going to happen next. There are things that we desperately wish would happen. There are things that we are trying with every ounce of our being to make happen. We’ll fight like hell for those things, but in the middle of the story, what we notice most is the resistance. Not God’s wonderful works. Not what God has done. Or even what God might do.

We notice what we can’t make happen. And yet, the psalm invites us to sing.

Sing of God’s praises. Sing of God’s wonderful works. And remember.

Remember the wonderful works God has done,
    the miracles, and the judgments God has uttered,
O offspring of God’s servant Abraham,
    children of Jacob, the chosen ones.
Psalm 105:5-6, NRSV

Remember how it was for Abraham and maybe — just maybe — you’ll see that same wonder working in your own life. Seek God’s presence and strength. Because you and I are in the middle of the story. We don’t know how it will end. We don’t know what will happen next. We know what we want but perhaps instead of seeking that next thing, it’d be worth spending some of that energy on seeking God’s presence and strength. Because we’re in the middle of the story and we don’t know what will happen next. But, no matter what, we will need that presence and a whole lot of strength.