Praying for my Community

I pray before every faculty meeting here at my college.  In this prayer, I seek to name the needs of my community.  The rhythm of the academic world is unusual–a blazing fast pace throughout the year, with some halting, long breaks in between.  Here, about two months into our first semester, we are already growing weary and looking forward to our first fall break.  So this was my prayer for our community:

Creator God,

As the days darken and the excitement of a new year wears off, we begin to stockpile our needs and feel the weight of our work.   Here we find ourselves praying / desiring / asking for more time, more resources, fewer obstacles, less stress.

Into this spiritually-constricting place of scarcity, remind us, Holy God, that we are enough, that we have enough, that there is enough…for each.

So let us not hoard, or protect, or scavenge for more.  But let us live generously with each other and generatively with this community – so all might know the abundance of our collective harvest.


The Way I Share My Soul with the World

mza_7403266694935537377.170x170-75Today is International Podcast Day—another one of those random “days” that I would not have known about had it not been for Twitter. Generally, #podcastday would not have mattered to me had I not wanted to blog about a new podcast I recently discovered. I’ve been listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons whenever I can. Through these podcasts she coaches women on developing their creativity and interviews a variety of successful artists. In Episode 12 of this podcast she interviews Brene Brown and they have this exchange:

Gilbert: What does creativity mean to you?

Brown: If you’d asked me five years ago what creativity means to me, I would have said, Ha. That’s cute. That’s fun. I don’t really do a lot of A-R-T because I’ve got a J-O-B. So you go grab your paintbrush and your scrapbooking, but I’ve got to get shit done.  But if you would ask me now, though, I would say that creativity is the way I share my soul with the world and without it I am not okay.

I resonated with the journey Brene Brown’s statement reflects. For so many years of my life I simply did not have time to nurture my creativity because I had to get shit done. Things changed for me, though, when I was trying to decide whether or not to begin my work with my writing coach, Christine Hemp. I heard myself saying to Christine over the phone, everything’s better when I am writing. This was when it clicked for me. I had to do this creative work. I had to make writing a priority in my life. It wasn’t selfish. It wasn’t just for me. It was bigger than me.

In the podcast, Brown and Gilbert go on to discuss all the shame associated with creativity. Brown said that 85% of the men and women she interviewed for her research on shame remember an event in school that was so shaming it changed how they thought of themselves for the rest of their lives. Tragically, 50% of the 85% had shame wounds around creativity. They had been told they couldn’t sing, looked stupid dancing, or “Read your essay, don’t quit your day job.”  Brown called these “art scars.”

Acknowledging what I know—that I am a better person, mother, spouse, pastor when I give my creativity room to dance—helps me ward off this shame. I am intentional now about making room for it in my life. I schedule it into my work calendar. I make an appointment with my writing. And the rest of the day benefits from that time of soul work.

So if you need a little creative inspiration. Check out Gilbert’s podcast and start nurturing your soul.





Writing Misery Loves Company

2987926396_36f8c4342d_oAs a deadline looms on a new project, I have reached the end of the writing honeymoon  when the fun of creating turns into the slog of hard, hard work.  It is a miserable place to be–a place where self-doubt and the fear of inadequacy reign.  So tonight I have gone in search of some quotes to remind me that I am not alone–that even the greatest of writers have known this misery.

Writing every book, the writer must solve two problems:  Can it be done? and, Can I do it?  Every book has an intrinsic impossibility, which its writer discovers as soon as his first excitement dwindles.  –Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay.  –Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners

Paris Review Interviewer to Mary Karr:  “What does it sound like when you get stuck?”

Mary Karr:  “Fuck. Shit. Don’t. Fuck.  You dumb bitch–whoever told you that you could write?  That’s what it sounds like.”

These words console me tonight as I face what feels like a daunting challenge.  But I also know that these are exactly the moments I need to push through if I want to be a writer.  Anybody can write when it is fun.  Only those who are serious push on past the honeymoon.

[Feature Image:  Rennett Stowe]

The Practice of Doing Nothing: How I Stopped Fueling my Stress

5703593871_5fdd16c7d2_oI caught myself getting overwhelmed tonight. I’d been distracting myself from my stress all day long—running from meeting to meeting, answering emails, sending emails, moving from one uncompleted task on my desk to the next. When I finally got home and needed to focus on my children, though, I no longer had the energy to distract myself. So the stress I had successfully avoided all day slowly began to unravel itself and take over.

The power of emotion is extraordinary. I felt the stress coming, could clearly see the effect it was having on me, and yet still felt powerless to stop it. As it built I tried not to let it effect my time with my children—but it did. I was impatient, angry, short and instantly regretful. But what could I do in the face of an emotion that was tightening my chest and making my heart beat so wildly? How could I possibly stop this avalanche? I was losing the battle. I was coming undone.

Then, I remembered the advice of Andy Puddicombe, the meditation guru from Headspace, saying something about the problem of resisting emotion. I remembered him talking about how, if we were to stop resisting the emotion that is causing us stress, then we will stop fueling that emotion. I was having a hard time understanding this lesson of Andy’s until tonight. When my stress reached the verge of overwhelming, I decided to give Andy’s advice a try. I sat down on my meditation mat, mala beads in hand, and stopped resisting—I stopped fighting the emotion within me. I allowed it to simply be while I breathed in and out. Almost instantly, I felt my stress lose a lot of its energy. And I realized I had been fueling it all day with my active resistance. Also, when I sat with my stress (it honestly felt like I was honoring it, like I was giving this emotion its due) it parsed itself out…it revealed itself as more than just the generic term of “stress”…but more specifically as sadness, self-doubt, and the fear of failure.

Ten minutes later, I am writing a blog post and reaping the benefits of this extraordinary practice. I still feel stress, but I am not overwhelmed. I am not undone. And I am much more aware of the source of my stress—which will make it easier the next time it, inevitably, comes around.


[Feature Image: Izaias Buson]

The Hard Work of Welcoming

4344878104_e746795618_oI have three fantastic student interns this year who are learning about the hard work of welcoming. At our college’s Presbyterian House we host a “Dinner and Devotion” program every Sunday that we advertise as “All Students Welcome.” Of course, not all students feel welcome attending a religious and spiritual life program, unless you work hard to let them know that you mean it—that they really are all welcome.

On their own, my student interns have come up with some great ideas about how to welcome people to the Presbyterian House and help students feel comfortable. Read this post, “Getting Comfortable” by my student intern, Angela, to learn more about their great work.

Typically, though, about twenty to thirty students show up at our Presbyterian House each Sunday. My students and I greet everyone at the door as they arrive. We insist on nametags (knowing someone’s name is a crucial step in welcoming) and we never relax as the hosts. We are always circling the group, reaching out to students on the margins, making conversation with those who look uncomfortable, introducing students to other students.

After each program we take time to debrief—to discuss what went well and what we could improve upon. This is when the challenge of “all welcome” becomes abundantly clear because the group we have successfully welcomed to the Presbyterian House is diverse. Predominantly, the students who attend are Christian. But we are also excited to have some non-religious students; students who are questioning; students who are Hindu, Muslim, and Jewish; students who are gay, straight, transgender; students who are conservative, moderate and liberal. It’s an eclectic mix—which offers the potential for great discussions—but also makes the work of welcoming that much more difficult.

Lots of questions arise for us such as: Can our Presbyterian House program be explicitly Christian and yet still be welcoming to students of other religions or no religion? How do we pray without making our non-religious students uncomfortable? What kind of food should we serve given different dietary needs? How do we acknowledge and value the perspective of the three or four minority students without singling them out? Honestly, our questions about how to welcome just lead to more questions—which sometimes lead to feeling overwhelmed by the difficulty and complexity of the task.

I think my understanding of the biblical practice of hospitality has been overly nostalgic. The theme of welcoming the stranger, the foreigner, the alien, runs throughout the bible giving our scriptures a beautiful “all welcome” feel. Never have I stopped to consider, though, that such beautiful hospitality would, practically speaking, be so difficult. But how could it not? Jews were expected to make space for strangers and share limited resources. Jesus and his disciples relied on the cultural expectation of hospitality as they traveled from town to town. With no way to make call-ahead reservations, just imagine what it took to welcome this unexpected crowd of thirteen! Practicing hospitality in biblical times meant practicing inconvenience; it involved some serious self-sacrifice. So I’m sure all sorts of questions arose in the first century too about the difficulty and complexity of this task.

But as my social media feeds blow up with haunting images of the refugee crisis, dismissive statements about the #blacklivesmatter movement, and Donald Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric about Mexican immigrants, I am reminded that these are questions worth asking. Yes, welcoming others is hard work. It’s overwhelming and exhausting. But when I think about the kind of community we are seeking to create at our college’s Presbyterian House, and the kind of hospitality we are teaching our students, I cannot help but wish more would commit themselves to this beautiful, biblical practice. I wish we could hang a sign out on the front door of God’s house saying, “All are Welcomeand then work hard to let every person know that we mean it.


[Feature Image: Nathan]












What do I believe?

1010219236_a00e9d4ef3_oWhat do I believe?

I oftentimes forget what I believe, until I stop to ask. People may assume I have my beliefs all figured out, given my profession as clergy. But I could ask myself this question every day. And every day the answer might be different. Some days I don’t ask at all, which is a shame—a waste of thoughtfulness—a missed opportunity for introspection—a day of going through the motions. I have too many of these kinds of days.

What do I believe?

I don’t believe in myself. So I sure hope there is someone else at work to make up for me.

What do I believe?

 When I’ve had at least eight hours of sleep, I believe in myself. I believe my actions matter and that my words can influence.

What do I believe?

When complications arose during my daughter’s birth, I didn’t believe God could pull out the baby stuck in my womb. In fact, I’m not sure God was present at all in that terrifying moment. I needed someone, though, so I turned to my husband. I pulled his ear close and whispered my prayers to him.

What do I believe?

I believe God was present after Tom died of diabetes. I hesitated in the door to his hospital room where his body lay in the bed, covered halfway by a white sheet tucked neatly under his arms. His widow, Diane, was sitting beside him. Even in the doorway I could feel that the room was thick with something. Sadness, yes, and the weight of loss, but something else, too. Or rather, something more. Someone else might describe it differently. Or not experience it at all. But I named it “God” because it felt like love to me. I swam through it, like molasses in the sterile, hospital air, to sit beside Diane and take her hand. Overcome, I prayed a halting, ineloquent prayer. Driving home afterwards, the experience clung to me like a stranger’s sweet cologne.

What do I believe?

I believe in evil. It’s not some shadowy figure out to get me, but it can present itself at any given moment. In the social inequity that confronts me every time I drive by the local, maximum-security prison and see all the African-American faces in the yard; in the image that haunts me of a young man in an orange jumpsuit, kneeling before his hooded executioner; in the degradation of our climate and in cruelty to animals; in all the ways we humans could do better, but don’t.

What do I believe?

I believe in the wisdom of the newborn sparrow who surprised me, unballing himself at the end of my driveway as I was heading out for a run. I had mistaken him for a leftover clump of dead grass. His feet, each with three long, hooked toes, were bigger than his whole body. He stood, and cocked his scruffy head to get a good look at me. Directly above his eyes, a shock of feathers stood up like a scruffy cowlick, or a bad case of bedhead. Thinking he must have just fallen from his nest, I wondered what I should do about this tiny life? He, perhaps, was wondering the same about me. Where are his parents? I scanned the trees around our yard, full of maniacal chirping. No one came to claim him, though. Or at least, not while I was around. Are you my responsibility, or do I leave you for another? Where are we in this world together? Then, he surprised me again, unfolding two tiny wings from the ball of his body, and he flew.

What do I believe?

I believe everything, God included, is in process. Towards what, I don’t know, because I also believe in mystery. But I hope (maybe even believe) it is somewhere beautiful.


[Feature Image: Dr. Wendy Longo] 


Pulpit Courage

5955371645_6e3aed87a4_oI have been thinking lately about Dr. Brad Braxton’s comment that “the American pulpit could use a healthy dose of courage” as I contemplate two upcoming sermons. I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Braxton, but my inner editor is already shooting off warning flares about some of the things I plan to say. This Sunday I am preaching for a relatively small, older, Lutheran congregation. My sermon topic itself doesn’t worry me as much as a few lines scattered here and there that the older folks might experience as a little too “edgy.”

I’ve been moving towards a more authentic voice in my preaching. This means I am trying to be the real me from the pulpit by using the same words and phrases that I would use in common conversations with others. Unfortunately, words or phrases that would be experienced as honest, refreshing, maybe even funny, among my friends and colleagues are suddenly heard as edgy or inappropriate when up in a pulpit. So I’m worried about how this will play out—but not worried enough to change my sermon. As long as my mother doesn’t drop by, no harm will be done. Also, I believe the church is in desperate need of a more authentic voice from the pulpit.

Then, in my first Chapel Service here at the college I am tackling Mark 7: 24-30 where Jesus refers to a desperate, widowed Syrophoenician woman as a “dog.” This word, kynarion in Greek, translated here as “dog”, was known widely throughout the ancient Middle East as an ethnic slur used by Jews against non-Jews. The word represents the racist, prejudiced, ignorant beliefs of one people over and against another people. So it’s really hard to understand how this offensive word could have rolled off the lips of the Prince of Peace.

I’ve decided not to make any excuses for Jesus, though. I don’t think he needs me to protect him. (I also respect him enough to let him be his very own Messiah.) Instead, I am going to be honest about the difficulties in this text and reveal its dangerous nature. I don’t want to be a “play it safe” preacher when it comes to texts like these.

Even though I know what I want to say from the pulpit for both these preaching occasions, it’s still pretty frightening to go ahead with it. So I’ll be relying on one of my favorite quotes from Oscar Romero for inspiration:

“A gospel that doesn’t unsettle,

a word of God that doesn’t get under anyone’s skin,

a word of God that doesn’t touch the real sin of a society

in which it is being proclaimed—

what gospel is that?

Very nice, pious considerations that don’t bother anyone,

that’s the way many would like preaching to be.

Those preachers who avoid every thorny matter

so as not to be harassed,

so as not to have conflicts and difficulties,

do not light up the world they live in….

The gospel is courageous.”

The gospel is courageous and those who proclaim it should be too.


[Feature Image:  Alexander Fisher]