Sweet Baby Jesus

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father… Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” — Matthew 24:36, 40-44

When I heard these words intoned in worship on Sunday, it was in the hope that something is coming, something good. It was not just a nod to the opening scene in West Side Story in which Tony sings this song. We actually heard him sing this hope in a video clip upon the screen. I do not doubt that something is coming. I am just not quite certain that it will be good. Like those that first heard this wisdom spoken by Jesus, I am suspicious of those that promise goodness or greatness for that matter.

And yet, in church this past Sunday, we were encouraged to consider the good that God has done. There were hints toward the past, some distant memory of which no one quite remembers the details. Some promise of what was but doesn’t feel quite relevant to the present moment. Apocalypse is more than a promise. It’s more than a memory or even a possibility but that despite the fact that everything seems to be going to hell, we can dare to believe that it won’t always be like this. Somehow, by God and by our own stubborn might, we will transform this mess. Change will come.

Tony can sing with all of his heart about something coming, but this year it feels no better than singing about the long expected birth of sweet baby Jesus. I know. I know. That is the tune of Advent. We sing about that birth. We hope for it. We need it.

Tbirth_final_cover_rehis year, I need a different tune. I need a different song and Elizabeth Hagan is the pastor that I need most. I have been honored to know Elizabeth through The Young Clergy Women Project. We’ve read each other’s blogs. We’ve cheered on each other’s ministries and now I want to offer her new book from Chalice Press to every pastor that ever dares to speak of hope in Advent.

How many times do I have to hear about the innocence of a sweet little baby as the answer to all that breaks our hearts? How many sermons must we hear before it hits us that this one metaphor cannot and will not speak to all that needs to be changed?

I need more than that sweet baby. Don’t get me wrong. I need me some Jesus, but it can’t be the only metaphor for this Advent. There has to be another way to illustrate that possibility than that itty bitty baby. There has to be something else.

I confess to you that I haven’t actually read Elizabeth’s book. If I had, I may have already found that metaphor. I have instead read an excerpt from her book and I’ve followed the ministry Elizabeth has continued to provide on her blog and on Patheos. What I have heard in these words is testimony. Elizabeth is telling the truth. She’s pointing toward the real hope of Advent. It is more than an attitude or an aspiration. It’s not enough to tell each other to try harder in prayer or sheer will, but true hope is more than the promise of something good. It isn’t always a song that we sing but might be more clearly understood by our protests.

Advent is not just a time to light candles and deck the halls. It’s a time to imagine what could be. It is a time to admit that things haven’t worked out as we might have hoped. Things are far worse and yet something is being revealed. Somehow, we are being changed. Transformation will come but it might not come with all of our tender ideas of a sweet little baby. It might not capture all of our ideals of parenthood. It may not even come with the pangs of birth but if we keep awake, as it says in the Gospel of Matthew, we might find what Elizabeth proclaims to be Advent’s hope:

Allow God to meet you wherever you are.

Open your heart to the coming of something unexpected.

And most of all, say yes to those urges that could only come from the Spirit.

It’s what the season is all about. Really.

Better things are coming. Just wait for it.

It’s a testimony I need to hear this year and so I’m adding Birthed to my Christmas List. Maybe you will too.

How Things Change

Doing a New ThingNot long ago, I wanted to give up. Or I felt like I wanted to give up. I’m really not much of a quitter. I’m too damn stubborn. But, I was frustrated and my energy for this project was waning.

How things change.

Almost immediately after I published that post, my little internet home for this military ministry started to get some attention. Just when I thought that I might be going about this all wrong, this showed up on Twitter. Just a few hours later, in one of the Facebook groups I’ve joined of blogging military spouses, there was another post wondering who was behind Beyond Acronyms. There was some enthusiasm. We’re not talking thousands of people. Or even hundreds. More like five. Five people were excited about this thing but five people can make all of the difference in the world. Five people can make you think like anything is possible because five people are suddenly like… hey, yeah, I’d be into that. I love these five people.

So now, with the encouragement of these five people, I’m starting to see myself as an entrepreneur. I even created a board for such a possibility on Pinterest which clearly means I must be serious. (That was sarcasm.)

Even with that new identity, I’m still struggling because what I’ve created so far is an online community. That’s not exactly what I wanted. I knew there would be some element of this when I started but it’s not what I want this to be. It’s not my hope. And yet, as much as I want to shift this internet-based ministry into something that manifests with real live actual people meeting together, I’ve been trying really hard to remind myself that that day will come. For now, this can be an online thing which means that I’m spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to make connections with real live actual people on the internet. I’m reading things like how Connie Schultz built a unique online community on Facebook and relying on my own network.

The RevGalBlogPals have been one of the tremendous resources of my ministry over the years which might have something to do with one of its many leaders is a dear friend of mine. So, I’ve been leaning into this online ministry to figure out how it has grown from a few haphazard blogs to what it is today. Here’s what I learned: the internet has changed a lot. It’s changed since I helped to create this thing called The Young Clergy Women Project. What worked then will not work now. But, this very dear friend of mine offered to do a little promotion for me. You can see that here. That’s really what started the stir of those five people talking about this — and how I got the little burst of energy a few weeks ago. I’m ever grateful. God bless RevGals!

It was about that time that I realized that I needed some more support. So I started to gather a startup community. Not a board or a set of officers but a startup community. I don’t actually remember which book I read about this in — and really should locate it because I have to do a better job of explaining this as I bring members of my startup community on board. But the idea is simply this: there is a constellation of people with different skills who seek to support you in this entrepreneurial thing by offering you bits of wisdom or advice or simply letting you vent all of your frustrations — but in the language of the United Church of Christ, it’s covenantal thing. You sign on to this. It’s an intentional commitment to be in this relationship. It’s something you’re actively doing which may mean that any one of these people calls me out whey they haven’t heard a word from me. So far this little community includes three women — two of whom are pastors and one is a graphic designer/tech genius. And in truth, I haven’t utilized their skills much yet.

Earlier this week, I had a conversation with a friend who is a military chaplain that has given me pause. She spoke a truth that I’ve been struggling to admit myself. I have been creating this blog with this media content — but my heart is not in it. It’s not really what I want to do. I don’t want to be writing about such possibilities but want to be engaged in the real ministry. The stuff that’s not so much about what’s on the internet but what is before you in the place that you are. Last week, I gave myself that out. I posted this on the blog so that I wouldn’t have to worry about posting anymore. I could focus on the other stuff that I hope to do but am still not sure how to do. (It also happens that this post speaks to the kind of community I hope for — the kind that wants to end racism and is actively taking a part in this struggle.) My military chaplain friend said it this way: the way that I approach this has to build up and support the good work of progressive chaplains. It has to be a complement. It has to work together rather than over and against. What she didn’t know is that I feel like I’ve been putting up content to put up content. I’m posting about things I don’t really know but imagine to be. So, I need to do some more work. I need to get into the trenches. (No pun intended.) I need to make some connections.

It is this that I hoped to do this summer. I thought I would start with some local churches near the base we’re at now but then I remembered that it’s summer. It’s summer in church world and things slow to an incredibly slow pace in most congregations. It’s a time of rest and planning that I loved as a local church pastor. It wasn’t a time of meetings but a time to chart out the year in preaching and teaching by the pool. (This does not meet that pastors are lazy. They are anything but lazy as they sit and read theology on the beach. They are trying to make 1000 things happen at once all year long and summer often provides a little more leisure to do some big picture thinking.) I wouldn’t want to deprive anyone of that precious time. So, I’m thinking that I might do a little more networking in the military world. I don’t really know how or where — but that summer can be a time to build some relationships rather than blogging. It can be a time to ask big questions within the new community I find myself.

So, that’s what I’ll be trying this summer but I’d hate to leave you without something to do. Here’s what I’d like to ask you to do as new experiments arise in ministry. Go on over to Instagram and follow along on the adventure. Follow Beyond Acronyms here and please don’t ever forget to pray for this community. Pray for every spouse and every service member that finds themselves in a changing culture especially after the Supreme Court decision on marriage. They need your prayers and your hopes more than I do.

The Last Retreat

Two years ago, I began this journey with four other women in a cohort group in College of Pastoral Leaders at Austin Theological Seminary. It all started with a group of women that I met as part of The Young Clergy Women Project. We became fast friends. There were dinners and bottles of wine. There was conversations and this desire for something more. In all honesty, we were looking for an excuse to spend more time together. That is, an excuse to drink wine together. So we applied to this program with lofty ideas about how we would support each other in trying to understand what makes our leadership different as young clergy women. We knew were were doing it differently. We just didn’t understand why we were different.

a96cd-photoWe applied to this grant. We had big ideas and crazy dreams. There was nothing that could stop us — except that lots has changed in those two years.

One member of our group had a baby. Three of us left our churches. Only one of those three is serving a church now.

And then, there was this moment the last time we were together in Washington DC where we each wondered if we were called to traditional churches. It’s the assumption that began this grant. We wanted to better understand how to create change within traditional churches. We didn’t want to do abandon those churches and start something new. That’s what we had said. But something changed in that retreat in DC. Something about us changed.

Today I’m leaving for the last retreat we’ll share funded by College of Pastoral Leaders at Austin Theological Seminary. I know this isn’t really the last retreat because we still have so many questions. And we really do enjoy drinking wine together. That won’t end this week. I know it won’t. It’ll continue. Something will happen past this point. But, I ask for your prayers. I ask for your prayers this week as we gather for our last retreat in Arizona as we try to better understand where God is leading each of us in life and ministry.

It is holy time indeed.