I can remember hearing that voice from behind me during my Girl Scout hiking days:  Look up!  You’re missing everything!  Indeed, being too concerned about tripping or, my greatest fear, stepping on a snake, will indeed keep you from seeing the beauty around you.  But I think you can take that advice too far.  If you never look at where you’ve planted your feet you just might miss where you are at that very moment and miss the Presence with you.

For a few months now, I have been gathering with a group of clergy colleagues and a spiritual director.  We are attempting to stay grounded – to see God’s presence in the midst of the demands of the pastoral life that we all lead.  We all have spouses, kids, pressures, and demands that can too easily keep us from caring and nurturing our own connection with God.  It is a gift – a safe space to be.

We gathered this morning in our familiar place and gave way to the Spirit’s prodding.   I reflected on the past few weeks that have included sitting with JP as he has gone through surgery and a follow-up stay in the hospital with pneumonia and pleurisy.  The irony is that during this incredibly stressful time I finally had some space to be in, of all places, the hospital.  I am quite adept at finding reasons to not take time for me but in the midst of sitting with JP there was not much else to do but be. He had a great view out of his room that overlooked a cool, old church with Lake Erie in the distance.  As he would come in and out of awareness I would sit with my cup of coffee, my feet propped up on the windowsill, doing crosswords, reading a mindless novel, or simply gazing into the distance.   In the span of a couple of hours I was nourished.  I knew JP was being taken care of and that he would eventually move beyond the pain.  K2 was in school, life at the church was being managed by amazing colleagues.  All was well.

I had to giggle a bit during one of the moments of silence this morning to recognize the pieces on the table before me:  A Cleveland Clinic water cup, candlelight, my coffee cup and my feet.  Maybe in my effort to find space I’ve been neglecting where I am right now.  God speaks in such humorous ways at times.

Look down!  God is here!

A friend of mine has a great weekly post on her blog called Five Facts for Friday.  I love reading it:  sometimes it makes me laugh out loud, sometimes it makes me ponder, sometimes it makes me cry a bit.  I’ve missed the practice of blogging and brainstormed recently with her about what weekly post I could do.  I think I’ve found it.

Where have your feet taken you this week?  I know how hard it is to pay attention to God.  I know it is crazy to think about finding an hour to soak in God’s presence.  The two hours I spend once a month with my colleagues feels so extravagent.  But my feet?  Maybe it is a simple as paying attention to my feet.  Friday Feet doesn’t have quite the same flow as Five Facts for Friday – any suggestions?

In the meantime, Look down!  God is here!


Congealed Salad


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cross posted on Pioneer’s Year of the Bible

Early in our Atlanta days, Jeff and I took my folks to Mary Mac’s Tea Room.  What an experience.  In addition to the menu, we were given little slips of paper with golf pencils to mark our orders.  Oh the giggles ensued.  We were indeed in a different world.  The best item on the list (other than navy beans) was the congealed salad.  In the other South (that would be Southern California) we called congealed salad Jell-O Salad.  Or just plain Jell-O!  Open that can of fruit cocktail, drain and pour it into the soft set Jell-O for a delectable treat (at least I thought so when I was younger!). 

But congealed salad just sounds nasty (and maybe more fitting for some of those potluck combinations we’ve all endured).  I think my mom was brave enough to check congealed salad on her slip of paper.  I’m sure she has it in her trip notes in addition to the rest of what we ordered.

Congealed – formed, shaped, solidified, done.

This image came to mind as I was reading in preparation for a sermon on 1 Samuel for Pioneer’s Year of the Bible.  As usual, Walter Brueggemann has challenged me to read the texts more deeply and let my imagination flow.  He quotes from Gail Godwin’s novel, The Finishing School (p. 4)

“There are two kinds of people, ” she [Ursula] once decreed to me emphatically.  “One kind you can tell just be looking at them at what point they congealed into their final selves.  It might be a very nice self, but you know you can expect no more surprises from it.  Whereas the other kind keeps moving, changing.  With these people, you can never say, ‘X stops here,’ or ‘Now, I know all there is to know about Y.’  That doesn’t mean they’re unstable.  Ah, no, far from it.  They are fluid.  They keep moving forward and making new trysts with life, and the motion of it keeps them young.  In my opinion, they are the only people who are still alive.  You must be constantly on your guard, Justin, against congealing.”

Brueggemann goes onto to say: 

The live word resists our congealing, in life and in interpretation.  That does not mean interpretation is unstable.  It means, rather, that we may continue to expect surprises and can never say, “Now I know all about the text.” 

So the challenge before me – how do I open the text for us to engage, imagine, live and not close down the conversation so that we can check this story off the list?

I’ll keep you posted and would love to hear your thoughts (especially you who will hear the sermon tomorrow!)

quotes from Brueggemann are from the Interpretation Commentary Series, 1 & 2 Samuel, WJKP

How to Change the World – Or Not


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I’ve been using an intriguing book to help me focus a bit each evening/morning:  A Pilgrim’s Almanac:  Reflections for Each Day of the Year by Edward Hays.  It is a quirky compendium of tidbits tied into cultural seasons and the liturgical calendar.  Part of yesterday’s reading came roaring back to mind as I tried to speed my daughter along through the getting-ready-for-bed process.

A devout and holy rabbi once said, “in my youth, fired with the love of God, I thought I would convert the whole world.  But soon I learned it would be quite enough to convert the people who lived in my village.  I tried that for a long time, but I was unsuccessful.  Then I realized that my program was still too ambitious, so I concentrated on reforming the members of my own household.  But I couldn’t convert them either.  Finally it dawned on me that I must work only upon myself.  But I have stumbled in my attempts to even accomplish that. 

Another stumble.  But tomorrow is a new day.




Lent is an odd sort of season.  Some find it to be the center point of their faith.  Others see it as a stumbling block.  Some simply feel it is “too Catholic” and not a part of their tradition.  Others have no idea what I’m talking about.  I tend to go back and forth on the issue.  It drives me crazy when folks brag about what they are “giving up” for Lent and can’t wait for each Sunday when they can enjoy their forbidden treat.  Others seem to revel in the pain they impose upon themselves as they take on a new discipline or practice.  Don’t get me wrong, I think it is helpful to focus on one’s faith and Lent is as good a time as any to do so but sometimes I think we forget why.   I fear that too often folks forget the admonition Jesus gives in Matthew’s gospel:

Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them…

The word Lent describes the lengthening of each day as we approach the arrival of Spring (which can’t come quickly enough as I look at the foot of snow that has fallen since last night).  As we’ve done with many words, we Christians have co-opted an Anglo-Saxon word to reflect this season prior to the celebration of Easter.  Lent is the forty days plus Sundays (hence the option to eat chocolate and guzzle carbonated beverages on Sundays) where Christians are to journey just as did Jesus in the wilderness preparing for the passion and celebration to come.  

As I’ve reflected this week on the beginning of Lent I’ve been stewing on stretching.  I can’t wait for the lengthening of the days and the arrival of spring.  Lengthening seems passive or at the very least the result of something outside of my control.  Stretching takes effort, sometimes a bit of pain, but the result is renewing.  When I don’t stretch regularly it isn’t just my neck that is out of whack, it is my entire being body and soul.  I get cranky.  I can’t focus.  I feel sluggish. 

Stretching one’s faith might be the same – it takes effort and is sometimes painful but the result.  Oh, the result. 

So if folks ask me what I’m giving up or taking on for Lent I’m going to tell them I’m stretching. 

image: http://www.relaxtheback.com/stretching-book-spiral-bound.html

So Great a Cloud

Today I celebrate the birthday of Mary C.  Mary is a giant in my life even though I don’t think she has ever topped five feet.  Mary believes in me and has told me that for as long as I can remember.  During high school, she would greet me with a hug, a sincere “how are you?”, and questions about what I was doing and enjoying in my life.  She was – and is – interested in what is going on in my life.  I can’t remember exactly when she started putting the idea into my head that I should consider seminary but she was one of the first people in my community who helped me identify a particular portion of my call.  I’m pretty sure she was the one who had a packet of information sent to me from what was then known as the Presbyterian School of Education.  Oh Mary!  Where would I be without your faithfulness and love? 

Have you taken the time lately to thank someone who has shaped and formed you?  I’m going to call Mary today and wish her a happy birthday and thank her again for being a part of my cloud.  I hope you’ll do the same with someone in your cloud.

We are Not Alone


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Tonight I was reminded of one of the greatest gifts we can offer each other – the reminder that we are not alone.  Our Stephen Ministers met tonight to do our regular check-in and continuing education.  It was a poignant night as we cared for each other as one of our own shared their own “dark night” and need of care. 

And then, in all places, the latest episode of Glee included Will and Sue singing This Little Light of Mine.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…

I am so grateful to be surrounded by so many that seek to shine the Light of Christ.  May you have the courage to do the same.

We are not alone,
    we live in God’s world.

We believe in God:
    who has created and is creating,
    who has come in Jesus,
       the Word made flesh,
       to reconcile and make new,
    who works in us and others
       by the Spirit.

We trust in God.

We are called to be the Church:
    to celebrate God’s presence,
    to live with respect in Creation,
    to love and serve others,
    to seek justice and resist evil,
    to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
       our judge and our hope.

In life, in death, in life beyond death,
    God is with us.
We are not alone.

    Thanks be to God.

A New Creed from the United Church in Canada

Learning from Others


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I attended one of our five SIX stated presbytery meetings last night (yes, five meetings a year – don’t get me started! obviously I was hoping we had moved to 5 when I wrote this initially!).  One of the ways I stay sane during these meetings is to peruse the publications offered to visitors in the pews; check out the bulletin boards in the hallways; take in the signage; and generally see what we can steal for our own congregation.  I know I’m not the only one that does this! 

Last night I came across this offering envelope:


I was struck by a couple of things:

  • the picture reminds me of my childhood days growing up in the church – and that was awhile ago!  Dated pictures speak volumes.  I know some folks do have churches that look like this but I am certain that no sun looks like that!  Dated pictures = out of touch with 2011.
  • I am Visiting – I’m all for including folks in the life of the congregation and don’t really agree with the “you don’t have to give because you are a guest” but this seems a bit odd.  Maybe if there had been something else to welcome those who were visiting? 

All this got me thinking about what we offer to folks who enter our building.  There is a ton of room for improvement.  I wish there was a good way to get a feel of what visitors really think about their experience.  The ones we hear from are those that stick around not the ones who never even make it in the door because of the website; the parking lot; the message on the phone; fill-in-the-blank much less those who come once and don’t return. 

We really do need mystery worshippers that will give reports like those on Ship of Fools.  Anyone have a great idea of how to go about doing that?  I am not a fan of anonymous critiques because too often they become a way of not talking, but I know that some folks would simply not share their ideas about what doesn’t work. 

I also don’t agree with “the church is just like a business” argument.  In some ways, yes, but I do believe we are to function in the realm of what is faithful not what is cost-effective or will bring us success.   This example is very Presbyterian and church related but I’m sure the questions arising from it cross denominational boundaries and  even professional settings.   

I’d love to hear your wisdom.

A Prayer for Heavy Hearts

Church of St. Peter in Gallincantu

My heart is heavy for others today as I go about the tasks of a typical Saturday:

  • memories of a life shared.  The joys and sorrows, laughter and tears as a family grieves the loss of one so dear
  • a family who says goodbye to a husband, son, brother, friend as a soldier is re-deployed to Iraq for at least a year
  • those who have received a diagnosis that is beyond imaginable
  • the one who struggles with depression, especially in this season of short, cold, gray days
  • children who struggle and hope for safe places to simply be
  • children – grown children – who care for aging parents but will forever be a child when it comes to one’s mom or dad
  • for pain that is too worrisome to share

You, Holy One, know pain, loss, and fear in ways we cannot comprehend.  Confident in your care but unable to shake my own concern, hear these prayers.  Hold up those who need strength.  Offer your grace in ways beyond our imagination.  Comfort with tenderness beyond human touch.  Stir within those without hope.  Bring light in the midst of darkness.  Be your life-changing self who can bring light in the midst of our dark nights. 

O Lord, God of my salvation,
   when, at night, I cry out in your presence, 
let my prayer come before you;
   incline your ear to my cry.  Psalm 88

I prayed Psalm 88 in the pit at the church pictured in this post.  The traditional site of the pit where Jesus might have been held during his trial.  The name of the church is based on the story of Peter’s three denials of Jesus. 

Fullness of Life

I’m channeling the dog from “Up” today as I try to center myself with all that is before me.  I find January to be full of distractions and centering, distractions and centering.  I came across this prayer from Teresa of Avila today and was struck by the last two sentences in particular.  I’ve been disturbed of late by a number of issues so it was a good word for me today.  Ponder and pray:

May nothing disturb you.

May nothing astonish you.

Everything passes.

God does not go away.


Can attain anything.

She who has God within,

Does not lack anything.

God is enough.

Huck Finn, The Constitution and Holy Scrpiture


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What an interesting mingling of news items today:  The 111th Congress began with the reading of The U.S. Constitution and the decision of a publisher to offer a new edition of Huckleberry Finn with the elimination of two particular words.  As I listened to the news this morning I was struck by the similarities these discussions have with the conversation that happens around the interpretation of scripture. 

It is easy to toss around accusations of who holds the truth when it comes to interpreting written words in whatever context we find them.  As much as we’d like to say “The Bible says…” or “The Constitution says…”  or even “Mark Twain meant” words must be interpreted and it depends on our perspective.  Where are you standing and what do you see when you see this picture?

I know there are many who hold that the words speak for themselves but I honestly, and I hope, humbly, don’t know how that can be.  I’m not a constitutional scholar (duh!) but there is a reason we have judges and courts to help us apply the words of the Constitution. I’m not an English major either, but the arguments around changing the language in Huck Finn have to do with the act of interpretation, right?

And whenever we read the Bible, we interpret.  I’m reminded of the work of Shirley Guthrie, a wonderful theologian and dear mentor who died a few years.  One of the many gifts he left was an explication of the rules of interpretation from his work Christian Doctrine.  He would joke that he only intended this work to be an adult education curriculum.  I don’t think it will help us with the Constitution or even Huck Finn, but for those of you who claim faith in Jesus Christ I offer these to you as a gift from Shirley.  Oh, and go order his book, too.

  • Scripture is to be interpreted in light of its own purpose.  “We read the Bible rightly when we read it to learn who God is and how we may live faithfully in the presence of God.” Guthrie
  • Scripture interprets itself.  “This rule also means that we must listen to the total witness of scripture, not just to selected passages that support what we already think or want to hear.” Guthrie
  •  The Christological principle.  “When we encounter apparent tensions and conflicts in what Scripture teaches us to believe and do, the final appeal must be to the authority of Christ.”  Declaration of Faith
  • The rule of faith.  “We interpret scripture rightly when we do not try to interpret it by ourselves, as if we were the first ever to ask what it means.” Guthrie
  • The rule of love.  “All right interpretations reflect the love of God and the love of God’s people for all kinds of people everywhere, everyone included and no one excluded.” Guthrie
  • The study of scripture in its historical and literary context.  It is important to interpret scripture “from the nature and language in which they were written, likewise according to the circumstances in which they were set down.” Second Helvetic Confession, ch. 2

There is much more to be said and discussed but this is a beginning.  I highly recommend reading Adam Copeland’s post over at A Wee Blether.