Sunday, October 30, 2011

A wedding of sorts

This afternoon, I was installed as Pastor of the congregation I am called to serve. This is huge, at least for me. In order to be installed, we dated, had an engagement, an engagement party, a shower and finally a wedding. In church pastor terms, it went like this The dating -- we danced a bit together when I was one of the candidates invited to pursue the application process. The committee charged with selecting a candidate to present to the congregation sent me an email: please respond to the following 20 questions - submit your answers on a DVD (in order to do that, I had to purchase a DVD recorder and record myself talking). So, I did and sent it off - within days, I was invited to send a sample sermon. I believe sample sermons should be current and was able to send a copy of one I did at a pulpit exchange the following week. It was not the best recording, but was as good as I could do in the time frame. Then came the Skype interview - this was my favorite part because I got to meet and know some of the committee for the first time. They were earnest, articulate and asked intelligent questions. Most of all, they were enthusiastic about revitalizing this church - which was what drew me to them in the first place since I believe we need to revitalize church if church is to survive. The engagement - The committee liked what I had to say, and I liked them - I was invited to come to NM to preach a candidating sermon, to be shown around and to meet the people in the Skype window, the Church Council and the congregation at three separate times. They were wonderful and I could see that a marriage between us could work. Sunday's sermon went well, and I was voted in. The engagement party - started on my first day as pastor pastor of St. Paul's United Church of Christ, Rio Rancho NM. I was not installed, but called, that is hired but only as a temp since at the denomination level my credentials had been examined but the denomination wanted to know more about me before giving the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. A good thing in this day of clergy misconduct. The shower - I guess the shower is when the Conference Minister tells me that my previous Conference had good things to say about me and that, if I passed one more committee, COCAM, I would be vetted. The gift is the Seal of Approval. a good gift since it means I am approved to work in the Southwest Conference United Church of Christ. Finally, the wedding. Today was the wedding. The final vows, as it were. We celebrated this with a service and a dinner (churches are known for worship and eating, right?) this afternoon. Earlier in the day, people asked me if I was excited - I was not. I was overwhelmed with the responsibility I was assuming. I am to take this congregation from a slow death to a congregation with a viable future. This is heady This is frightening. People look to me with hope of growth, but they also look to me as a pastor who won't make them uncomfortable. I almost did not go through with the wedding ceremony. My feeling about marriage and divorce is that marriage should be at least as difficult to obtain as a divorce would be. If I fail to inspire the congregation, if I fail in the attempt to bring us from slow death to slow life, if I lead us off a cliff many will be disappointed. I look in the mirror and tremble. Even before this marriage began, I knew that the would ask me to do things that will not lead them out of the downward spiral. And they have already: please don't change anything. Don't ask us to sing different music; don't ask us to pray differently; do sermons like the pastor we had in the 9160s did. Give us a good message but don't challenge us. My challenge every week is for them to find ways to be Jesus people in this world. It is pretty scary especially if you have been in a church for forty or fifty years that only asked you to give money. It is easier to give money than to give yourself. In my most hopeful moments, I feel God is calling this congregation to be around in ten years and longer - becoming vital, enthusiastic, engaging the Bible and working to be Jesus folk in our communities. We have hard work ahead. The honeymoon is about to begin!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Back Seat To God

It is time for me to stand up and say out loud that I am a member of St. Paul’s Rio Rancho United Church of Christ. This is the first step of a couple that lead to my installation as pastor of this congregation. Reflecting on this step, I am aware that joining anything except Facebook in this current social climate is iff-y if not downright suspicious. Joining often means that the joiner will receive emails from an automatic email generator and will never be free of too many emails that arrive each day. In Pennsylvania I shopped online when I found it difficult to go car-shopping since each small town around the county and in towns located in PA and NY sported one dealer. If I wanted to try a Ford, I needed to travel to Wellsboro; if I wanted a Subaru, to Mansfield, a Madza to Montoursville, a Toyota in Ithaca or a Nissan in some other city in New York. After much searching, I purchased a car last January and moved in the summer to New Mexico. Although I remembered to unsubscribe before leaving PA, I still receive automatically generated emails letting me know that if I just drive a bit, I can see a car in Syracuse or Baltimore! Joining seems to mean that tentacles of an octopus wrap around me and threaten to squeeze me like a boa constrictor if I try to get away. Several weeks ago, I looked at a home to purchase. Here is how I went about it. Prior to my purchase, I spent much time driving around looking at neighborhoods. And I spent much time online looking at homes for sale, condos for sale, townhouses for sale. Before I decided to buy, I looked at rentals all over this area. Close to the mountains - south of Rio Rancho but north of 40. Places I can afford and places I cannot afford. In the long run, I narrowed it down to a neighborhood. As I was online, looking, I received an email from a realtor saying I was looking at her site so why not make an appointment and let her show some of these homes. After thinking a week, I decided to let her show me homes. At this point, this is what she knew about me I had a first name, and an email address (not the one I use here at church). I told her I would meet her but she insisted I come to her office. I arrived at the appointed time. We looked at four condos and I made an offer on one. On returning to the office to write the offer, the agent said “You realize you have to give me your last name so I can write the contract.” Fear of joining runs deep. Somehow, however, I have come to think like Paul: if I don’t join, then I lose much. My soul. So on Sunday this past Sunday I joined St. Paul’s United Church of Christ as its new pastor. I am called to lead this congregation through a scary process of revitalization. In my darkest moments, I remember that Paul started churches and Jesus was merely trying to revitalize the zealots of his. I have started a church and am now revitalizing - revitalization is more challenging. As new church planter, I had all leeway to do what I thought best. As revitalizer, I have 78 opinions to consider. Actually, there may not still be 78 as a few have left, not liking where we are going. I tell them I read my job description, but that does not change the movement out-of-comfort-zone-to-uncharted-territory. Some know if there is no change, the church will close, but it would be a couple years from now and there could, quite possibly, be a miracle that saves the church. If the congregation pursues change, it could lead to the closing of the church, but then we are not leaving room for the people who used to fill the pews to return. I empathize. But press forward. I take heart in the fact that at least two-thirds of the congregation supports the direction chosen by the whole congregation. As new member, I have as much to loose as the longest term member. My church. I feel so strongly that if we do nothing, we lose everything, that I am willing to take the chance of uncharted change and growth. One hopes. And prays. A friend reminded me to always consider God in my blog. Here is my consideration: each day, I pray for guidance, for help, for kindness and understanding, and courage to lead this congregation forward. When people tell me they want to talk to God, I try to remind them that after talking, the next part - the hardest part - is listening. I listen and hope the thoughts that come into my head are what God is saying. Even as revitalizer, I take a back seat to God.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

where did this post go?

Picking my brain for a suitable topic for today’s blog, all I can come up with is the thought that congregations as like the total society, with issues and concerns and individuals who respond differently to life. This was so clear this week of national concerns and personal issues. Our national concern. the 10th anniversary of 9/11, saw me making sure that our worship service reflected our concern for the victims (living and dead) of the disasters as well as concern for our country. At the same time, I wanted to raise awareness of the insanity that followed, and the vilification of all Muslims, painting them with the same brush because some extremist groups wish America ill. Our congregation is blessed to have a family of Iranian descent worship with us regularly. I wanted to be certain that this family was seen in a positive light by all of us, so I asked one family member to be part of the sermon. She was wonderful. The blending of myriad cultures in our nation does enrich the lives of each of us. On a more individual level, one family struggles with so many issues that I cannot understand how they shoulder the burdens. This family, as one blow after another strikes them, pulls closer together, supporting each other in ways I marvel at. I can only pray for them and hope the prayers offered by this congregation gives strength to each of them. However, I was able to do one more thing. In our congregation, we name people who need our prayers and include them in the morning prayer. But I am not sure that the prayers offered are taken home with worshippers and prayed during the week. So, I asked one woman, who turns out to be a good pray-er to initiate a prayer chain that can be activated at any time and will continue as long as the request for prayer continues. It is a small thing. But, I think, powerful. In our church we don’t pray for miracle healing, but for strength and comfort. Specially asking for comfort for a person in need seems like a powerful tool. I don’t know that prayer always helps. But I do know it cannot hurt. As a sociologist cum theologist I am reminded that personal issues are so influenced by what happens nationally. Does what happens individually influence the national? I wish I could think it does.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ah, Work

After three Sundays at St. Paul’s I find myself so excited about this church revitalization and transformation that I want to run myself ragged by trying too many different ideas at a time. Here are early thoughts:

Worship growth: In worship I started out right off “doing a new thing” - as a statement to visitors who come as much as a statement to those who have been part of this congregation for many years. We are going down a different road. It has started smoothly, not full of ruts or wagon tracks, no boulders in the path to pry out with huge tree-trunks. Perhaps the addition of a singing bowl soothes us all.

Quick Changes: Before the first day, I thought of the pastor who came to the church and saw that the piano was in the wrong place. So, the pastor moved it to the pulpit side of the church. On Sunday, people noticed the change and were not pleased and started a movement to have the pastor removed. After some time, a new pastor was called. First Sunday, the pastor noticed the piano was in the wrong place, and moved it an inch. Eventually the piano was moved to the place the first pastor had selected, but it took a couple of years.

Changing our community: We don’t have time to move the piano by the inch if we are to be successful in revitalizing ourselves into a progressive Christian community - the vision the congregation seeks. I hear that we were considered one of the most conservative congregations in the area. If we go slowly no will notice the difference, yet I remember that when change happens too quickly, people feel out of balance (and out of sorts). Finding that right balance is a bit tricky - one person likes the singing bowl, while another likes the sanctuary arts we have implemented and yet another want nothing to change.

Balance beam: When a congregation member offers a suggestion, I mull it over and see how balance can be achieved. I am short and was told that not all could see me during the sermon. So rather than stand on the lowest level to preach, I now stand up high - but still not near the pulpit and not in a robe and still, generally, without a script. I prefer to be on the same level as the congregation so we see eye-to-eye as it were, but I can walk down to eye level then go back up. That way, even the tiniest person can see me. I remember to thank God that they want to see me.

Who is God calling us to be? Balance is more than worship - balance in taking strides that keep us going forward while we assess where we are. Though we have not yet discerned who God is calling the congregation to be, we have started to do some active outreach to the community. I think that our activity will not hurt us and may even help us in the long run. Eventually, though, we need to be of one mind as we offer ourselves, our programs and our church to the greater Albuquerque community.

In the past, this blog was about my transition from a city dweller to a rural pastor. As I grow into God’s vision for me, I find myself more comfortable as a pastor in a city environment - wondering at the insects that walk on the pavement and don't their tiny feet get hot? and looking toward church revitalization in an area of western thinking - conservative but peppered with rays of hope illuminated by sunshine. So much sunshine.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Getting back to work

It is Thursday, and quite a few Tuesdays have passed since I last blogged. I am pleased to say that I think I may be back on track. Tuesdays will be blogging in early morning after I get to the office. And after I take a minute to sit in the sanctuary and say a prayer.

At this point, I have settled into my apartment as much as I will. The 910 square feet turns out to be way too small – and is arranged in ways that do not suit my life. I have signed a seven month lease, so am biding my time. The apartment complex runs with the Bosque, a God’s place in this New Mexico high desert if ever there was one. I walk this area some mornings and wonder where all the water comes from. I know that our apartment complex coaxes green grass much more than I am comfortable with – even in Pennsylvania, we were concerned about water usage.

Another sight that impresses me as I walk on the Bosque are birds. On Tuesday morning, a local hummer fluttered around me for at least two minutes. I stood still (as in a tai chi bamboo-in-the-wind pose) the tiny wings flapped and the long beak investigated whether I was a source of food or not (not). With my eyes, I looked to see if there were flowers around and I saw none, though after I started walking again, I noticed tiny blue flowers barely sticking out of earth crushed by footprints of runners and walkers. I marveled at the smallness of the flowers and that I had not noticed them as I meditated – what ever happened to Thich Naht Hanh’s reminder about walking with mind attending to surroundings. The hummer left me to find food at a close flower and then I started noticing other birds (swallows ? - I really need a NM bird guide) that were dive-bombing the running water. There were a few goldfinches too.

Speaking of birds, early my first Sunday in NM, but not my first Sunday at church, I walked to church and went in the open door. No one saw me at 6:15 (the door was open because an early group gathers) so I wandered around this new church I am called to pastor. There to greet me was a roadrunner – trapped by the huge glass windows and desperately trying to find a way out. I tried to help, but without success. The poor bird was terrified and kept hopping around. She must have found the open door, because I have not seen her since.

New Mexico is an awesome place. The high desert lives up to the name “Land of Enchantment” and except for the total lack of rain, is pretty awesome. It would be foolish to expect much rain in a desert, but we need some. This season of the year is billed as “monsoon” season. From many years in Colorado, I remember arroyos filled with boiling, rolling water at least two to three times each year. A friend came from Colorado Springs and we went to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center while she visited for the day. We stayed to see the dancing demonstration at 2PM. We sat in shade, the two dancers were in the scorching sun. The lead dancer addressed a question about “rain dances” and responded that all dances are rain dances. Rain is so crucial to every aspect of life that asking the gods for rain every chance is a prime concern. We could make it one of ours. Water keeps us alive – even much water at a time can be managed. A public service announcement here reminds Albuquerque residents that a tremendous water system keeps this city alive. It also reminds locals that we are responsible for keeping water clean.

So – thoughts spanning several Tuesdays from New Mexico. In all, I find that God has been so good to me by giving me this call to St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Rio Rancho New Mexico. I try to follow Meister Eckhart’s advice when I pray "If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, "thank you," that would suffice." So, I say thank you to God, daily.

Friday, July 22, 2011


This morning at an apparently very early hour, I decided to walk to the local coffee shop for breakfast there being virtually nothing at my apartment to eat. Here are my observations:

First: though the restaurant was open for business at 6AM, few customers were there by 7AM. One of the things I went for was conversation - even wore a United Church of Christ shirt that might provoke some comments. Each of those who were eating (all four of them) dutifully kept nose in newspaper, computer or magazine. Me, too, after I found no one to talk with. Doesn’t everyone jump out of bed ready to talk?

Second, I was the first customer at the local market while all the fruit was still being sorted - apparently carnage from overnight fairies who run havoc over the place.

Third, when looking up, one sees that others are up early as well - the balloonists are out in full force this early time while it is not too hot and the city is not likely to have storms until the later afternoon. Actually, we have had rain two days in a row - that after months of nothing. A congregation member asked me to bring rain - perhaps I did.

As I mused and walked, it dawned (pun intended) on me that I am still on PA time. At night I want to sleep at 9PM and get up six hours later at 3AM. Not so good. Trying to change my body’s clock is not as difficult as changing the internal clocks of two cats who like to eat the moment I get up. They have learned they can hurry my rising by patting my face.

As I finish this blog it is 8:30. For many, the day is beginning. For me, the time has been productive though I am on vacation: wrote a letter of recommendation for a potential seminary student, did some on-line banking, purchased a card to send off a legal document, fed the kitties, read a bit from If the Church Were Christian by Philip Gulley (2010), looked at my five email addresses and remembered again that I need to consolidate them to save my sanity, and prayed a bit (praying was first not last). I hope I get to be on Albuquerque time pretty soon!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Walking and chewing gum

Each person chooses a path to follow through life. We know that some choose fame, others fortune. I chose a world that did not pay much in money, but gave me satisfaction. I often thought that if I made a difference in one person’s life, that I had been successful. While in the nonprofit arena, that success was thought to be found in the populations I served: youth, homeless families, teen parents, the hungry. I know that I did make a difference for at least some. And that is gratifying.

Since donning this clergy hat, I wanted to make a difference to one seeker - or to many - but one never knows if or how that difference manifests itself. As I leave Soul Link Faith Community and Tioga County, PA, I am told that I did make a difference. So many people have said that the presence of this accepting church has been positive in the community. The ways it has made an impact are not blatant. People who don’t fit the standard Christian mold found a place to worship where they were accepted and welcomed. Those who seek God, but are not sure -- who ever is -- found they could ask questions in an open forum without concern of ridicule or derision. Some who were jaded by previous religious experience joined and found a niche. One man told me I had saved Christianity for him. I am humbled.

Since I am not motivated by money I thank God that the non-tangible things that motivate me have an effect. I will miss this Pennsylvania mountain area where I am always considered a "flatlander." Going home to the West has its drawbacks.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Growing up

July 11 - the day of the move. In some ways, it seems as though July 11 will never arrive; in other ways, time does fly.

My house is under-contract so things are going along in a Godly fashion. A dream I had last night made me aware that I have an attachment to too many “things” and that some of them need to be let go. Some are belongings I moved from Colorado three years ago. some, not many, I acquired while here - that even counts the Wellsboro walking stick I purchased at the Laurel Festival that will accompany me on hikes when I get to my new home. This morning I sold my glass-top table to someone who will put it to good use. Two chairs are promised to John and Bill, the Christmas Tree that is too large will be snatched up by a young family at the yard sale.

Aware that some things may need to be replaced, I have put money received from selling into a separate account, to be closed when I leave and used for those things I decide I need. An example: The microwave went home with Ann and I test my life sans microwave for one month. If life is painful, I will purchase a smaller one, with fewer bells and whistles in NM. The only things safe from purging are preaching and theology books - these stay for many more years. O, and the cats!

Each time I decide not to take one of my possessions that I have held on to for these years, a bit of me grieves. Sensibilities say “let go” - sentiment says “it does not take much room” - right now sentiment is winning.

Divesting myself of these possessions means I begin a way of life that was at once very distant: older age. Statistic: a huge percentage of older Americans will work until they are 80. I suspect the life that accompanies the work takes on a different tone. My downsizing is poignant, but I am determined not to hold on to so much that they consider me a candidate for Hoarders. My new digs have 910 square feet, down from about 2,000 here. No sentimental ash trays for me! (I quit smoking some 30 years ago, but one ash tray somehow made it across the country several times.) No Christmas tree and lights that take up half of my living room, and the round table was just too impractical for the small dining “room” of this new apartment. Memories stay, they don’t take up much room.

Bring on this older age!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Stage of Grief

Sermon prep waits and I am aware that I preach at Soul Link only three more times; I already know what the final sermon will be. I want to be sure that the other two are of value for those who remain here preparing to take up the slack while preparing to find someone new to lead this congregation. People ask me whether I am concerned that this congregation will survive. And, I would be if I did not think that I have prepared them to be a congregation in service of God rather than a congregation that is “my” flock.

Some nice things many people tell me is that I have made a difference in this county during my three short (sometimes very, very long) years here. People call me and email me (some of them I don’t even know) to tell me they appreciate that I take a vocal stand for those on the margins or those who need help. I decided a while ago that I have a voice and I need to use it. So I do. I try to remember, even as I use this voice, that some who hear me are offended. I hope not to offend so much that the message of hope and justice and love is lost. I remember recently when one clergy in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) refused to stand next to me because I am so liberal. So, obviously, I do offend loudly! Boldly! Maybe so. But let’s not lose the message.

What is poignant for me is that when I leave here, I will not know how this congregation fares - I will not know if a pastor is found or if the congregation continues or what it looks like in five years and ten years. I cannot come back, I cannot be in contact with members of the congregation - that does not mean that I don’t care. Just that I honor my denomination’s desire that I leave and leave cleanly for the next person of the cloth to come and minister to a healthy congregation.

I am eager to move to New Mexico (St. Paul’s UCC in Rio Rancho) and start this next chapter of my clergy life. At the same time, I will miss Wellsboro and Mansfield and the many friends I have found here - people who accepted me even though I don’t have deep roots here. I do have little hair roots that have been cared for by many. I pray that this move provides me with deep roots and a congregation that is as accepting and loving as the one I am leaving. My spiritual director reminds me that it is in God’s hands. So, into your hands O God, my future. Into your loving hands O God, this Soul Link Faith Community.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


I am in the betwixt and between mode - eager to leave, sad to leave, hungry to start at St. Paul's and missing my friends here already. Celia has contacted a friend so that I have someone to talk to when I get to Rio Rancho and Judith and Ardys say that our friendships endure distance. I hope so. In the meantime, I do activities of daily living. Sermon is ready for tomorrow as are bulletins.

After a terrible winter, spring has been just as bad. We have had storms: A stained glass window at our church sustained damage in the tornado/high winds of Thursday evening but otherwise, the church is fine as are we all. On Wednesday evening, I cut my grass wearing my striped rain boots and was soaked when the grass was finally presentable. This is the season of cutting twice a week, so on Monday, I will cut again. I am reminded to give thanks that my basement has not flooded. Our local farmers are worried as they are unable to plant in the squishy ground. Even though we have much rain, Wellsboro has issued a boil order for our water once again because the filtering system is inadequate and outdated and outmoded. Second time for a boil order this year.

Next Saturday is our triathlon - swim, walk/run a 5K and bike ride 15 miles. We have been training since January when we agreed to do some outside exercise every Saturday when the temperature was in the double digits - quite a few times, it was just 10 degrees. Photo is of my training buddies.

Family, friends, church, wind, rain, baby birds outside - .

Much to be thankful for and much to concern us.

Monday, May 9, 2011


Yesterday was Mother’s Day - joyful for many, but not all. For me, a day when I tried to honor mothers at church while remembering that a few people wanted to be mothers but are not and some had mothers who were less than stellar. Our bulletin said we were honoring all who mothered us - giving some men the chance to be honored as well. I gave flowers to everyone. We had cake and coffee after worship - I appreciate all that this congregation does to hold us in a Christian community. In the afternoon, I talked to kids who live in distant places.

After getting home from worship I planted a couple of plants and then changed my clothes for a bike ride, to be followed by dinner that my friend’s husband cooked for us. The roast was yummy and accompanied by lots of vegetables topped off with homemade strawberry shortcake and coffee. Thanks Bruce!

The bike ride is in preparation for our local triathlon on June 4th. In the sporting event - really a training for one in August in Lewisburg, we swim 300 yards, run a 5K and bike 15 miles. We started training in January, though yesterday was the first day to ride a bike because the weather through the early spring has been so wet and cold. We swim weekly, I go to a fitness center and do treadmill 3-4 times a week, but biking was not possible. Yesterday it was so we took to the trails with exuberance riding 9.0 miles - until I gave out.

For some reason, I want to behave as though I were in my twenties - ride the bike, run, swim distances. I know I don't feel older than I used to, perhaps this exercise helps me fool myself. I am fearful -- if I give up activity, will I need a rocking chair on my front porch? Will I start wearing old lady printed dresses? Will I give up progressive lenses for bifocals because they are less work? Maybe I will use my blender more. The thoughts are not at all appealing. I read that 60 is the new 40. I hope so. I hope I remain active until it is time for me to leave this glorious earth. I plan to keep riding and running and swimming long as I can - long as God gives me stamina and sunshine and some running paths.

Today, we again rode our bikes - it was more difficult today because the wind seemed to slow us down as we strained to go up hill. What our parents said may be true: they walked five miles to school UPHILL both ways. This afternoon, we rode 9.5 miles, uphill all the way. Or so it seemed.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

In spring thoughts turn

Easter was late this year. Thank God it came or else we might not have known it is spring! Here, in Tioga County Pennsylvania, we have had rain, rain and more rain for weeks. This overabundance of water following a winter of snow, snow and more snow. I keep many lights on in the house to convince myself that the long, dark days of winter really, truly are past.

The first two years I lived in Pennsylvania must have drought years. There was rain and snow at appropriate times - and even a bit of snow too early in the winter or too late when we should have been celebrating spring, but nothing prepared me for all this wet stuff! Me, a person from high mountain desert country where 12 inches of moisture each year is normal and 16 is something to be concerned about, especially because rain comes in deluges and snow in blizzards. Nothing prepared me for a climate where the number of inches (or quarter inches as in Colorado weather details) of rain are not reported on the nightly news! My neighbor has a rain gauge but he keeps the totals to himself unless, on a visit around the neighborhood, he needs a conversation starter. As a resident of this verdant country, I now own a rain wardrobe: rubber boots (multi-colored stripe), a red rain coat, a blue rain jacket and three umbrellas that are bright and cheery (yellow, green & multi).

The rainy days have produced trees that swell with new spring life. When I travel, I notice bare branches with about-to-burst buds on every street and back road. Once frozen waterfalls now tumble down onto roadways offering sparkling drops when the sun peeks through clouds. I find myself squishing (in my multi-colored boots) through my yard to see what plants wintered over, which are almost ready to bloom and which need a bit more sun to burst forth. Being outside gives me hope.

Since Easter morning - last Sunday - our rain seems to have multiplied. We look at the skies trying to anticipate when the sun will shine for more than just a few minutes. Weather forecast says this Saturday is a day we should look for -- warmer, sunny - humid? How is that for timing? I am expecting to participate in a 5K - doing it in the sun would be so nice. I hope to smell fragrant flowers lining the streets, hear a variety of birds cheering us along and see crowds of people (well, maybe not crowds) waving as we go by - perhaps wishing they too had spent the last winter months training for some foot races to keep us out-of-doors during sunny days.

Yup, spring must be almost here. The God-signs - the Easter signs of new life - are everywhere.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Getting without Giving

The following came to me in an email. I have included the comments by the young doctor and my thoughts on his concerns.

Dear Mr. President:
During my shift in the Emergency Room last night, I had the pleasure of evaluating a patient whose smile revealed an expensive shiny gold tooth, whose body was adorned with a wide assortment of elaborate and costly tattoos, who wore a very expensive brand of tennis shoes, and who chatted on a new cellular telephone equipped with a popular R&B ring tone.  While glancing over her patient chart, I happened to notice that her payer status was listed as "Medicaid"!

During my examination of her, the patient informed me that she smokes more than one costly pack of cigarettes every day and somehow still has money to buy pretzels and beer. 

And, you and our Congress expect me to pay for this woman's health care?  I contend that our nation's "health care crisis" is not the result of a shortage of quality hospitals, doctors or nurses.  Rather, it is the result of a "crisis of culture", a culture in which it is perfectly acceptable to spend money on luxuries and vices while refusing to take care of one's self or, heaven forbid, purchase health insurance. 

It is a culture based on the irresponsible credo that "I can do whatever I want to because someone else will always take care of me." 
Once you fix this "culture crisis" that rewards irresponsibility and dependency, you'll be amazed at how quickly our nation's health care difficulties will disappear.

It is worth the read - but how many others did he work on who don't have all the flashy stuff and would not go to the ER for treatment because they know they are not insured. There must be an "in between" a way to treat people who need health care and maybe a way for them to give back to society for what they get.

Years ago in one of my first sociology classes we talked about giving assistance while requiring something in return. The prof talked about how it is unethical to give with strings - consequently, if I give money to a panhandler (for instance) I no longer tell that person how spend it so if it goes to booze the values of the person remain paramount. As I age, I see that I would like to have strings or accountability attached to some things. But food, shelter, health care, safety are basics. No one should go without - nor should everyone get palatial housing, gourmet meals or expensive and extensive elective surgery/treatment.

As a society, we need to struggle with this. So, I am going to blog this. I will leave the doc's name off.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Dinner for One

When I was young and single, I cooked for one -- when I cooked which was not all that often. Then, when first married, I cooked for two. That was an experience because all I knew how to cook was roast beef, baked potatoes with lots of butter and sour cream and green beans. Eventually, I learned a few other things to cook that were less expensive.

After my divorce, with a small son, I cooked little meals made up of the meats and vegetables I bought from Bell’s Market that was a few blocks from my home. I made just a small salary (not much has changed there!) and the wonderful butchers at the market offered me meat at discount prices if I came on Saturday afternoon when the meat might spoil before Monday because stores were still closed on Sundays in those days. I could feed the two of us on $5 per week! And we ate well - lamb chops, steaks, good cuts of beef and fresh chicken and fresh veggies! Amazing!

In my second marriage, my husband brought five sons and I one, so we had six boys who needed to eat three meals each day. I learned to make menus and follow them to the letter. They were posted on the refrigerator: Monday through Sunday: breakfast, lunch and dinner with snacks. The kids learned that if food was a snack, they could eat it, otherwise, it was part of a meal they would eat during the week. My cooking improved. As we grew into our more married life, we joined AAUW or church dinner groups as my cooking branched out to the more exotic, I became known as a good cook.

Now, six years into widowhood, I rarely cook a meal for myself. Cooking for one is so tiresome. I have a book or two about cooking for one, but some nights I am not home to do that and I skip a meal or eat food that is not interesting. Part of the result of skipping meals or eating on the run is weight gain that could rob me of good health. To help with the weight, I exercise six days each week. And, when exercising alone was not successful at trimming the weight, I rejoined Weight Watchers.

This morning at my 7AM WW meeting, I complained about having to cook for one and how all recipes seem developed for 4 or 6 or 8. I decided that something could change - I could invite people who are tired of cooking for one to come to my home this Friday (the 25), bring a dish to share that they cooked for 3 or 4, and eat with me. We would make new friends, have a different type of supper and get out of a rut.

Sometimes, God-things come in packages that look unusual. Sharing a meal with friends is a Godly thing - Christians celebrate communal eating each time they have communion. We will see how this turns out. I won’t give out my address, but if you are interested in joining this supper gathering let me know by responding my Facebook link. I am bringing tabbouleh and some kind of meat.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Gratitude and God

Yesterday morning I drove form my home to Sayre PA to participate in an East Central District (DOC) pulpit exchange. The trip was about an hour and 15 minutes, and it poured all the way. I left home early enough to arrive at the church after making a stop or two to pick up cat food.

I arrived at church and sat through an enjoyable service - my preaching was toward the very end of the worship service. While we sat and listened to music and prayed and communed, the rain changed to the promised snow, coming down as though still rain and making the roads snow-packed, but passable, in short order.

As I drove out of the church parking lot, I asked one family if it would be wiser for me to go home through New York and was told that Pennsylvania Route 6 should still be easily passable at this time in the storm. After driving south on PA Route 220 I turned west onto Route 6 still 40-some miles from home. Still in snow that fell at the rate of about an inch an hour. Roads quickly were snow-packed with no plows out yet.

Early on Route 6, I passed a van that had gone off the road while going west (my side) and seemingly had knocked down an electric pole. Another car had stopped, so I continued going home, aware that the roads must be quite icy for this vehicle - much larger than mine - to end up in a ditch. I kept my speed at about 30, using gears rather than brakes to slow me down when I needed to be traveling slower. There was not much traffic out, but I did not expect much on Sunday morning at 11:30.

When still 35 miles from home, I drove up a hill preparing to go around a curve and down the hill when a car, already around the curve, pulled abreast of me and I could barely see the driver turn on the car lights. I thought I should slow down, perhaps there were deer on the road and I wanted to be going slow enough not to have to use my brakes (I am a Colorado driver and I don’t stop going up a hill or jam on brakes going down). Even as I write this, I get shivers.

As I rounded the curve and started my descent a large pickup - the kind of pickup with four wheels in the back - flipped over and rolled several times, landing on its side. All that went through my mind was that had I not seen that car, had I not slowed down, had I had to jam on brakes to stop, I would have been under that truck when it landed. I stopped, shaken, and saw a pickup that was immediately behind the flipped vehicle empty itself of about six men all dressed in gas-company-red overalls. They ran over to the flipped truck, and helped one man get out.

As I had nothing to offer that was not already available, I did not stay in that place where cars behind me would have crashed into me, but continued on my way. Shaken, I was filled with gratitude and prayers of thanks to God that I was not the vehicle under the one that crashed, and that the one man I saw emerge from the vehicle was apparently unhurt.

Shaken and overwhelmingly thankful, I continued my journey and flashed my lights at all on-coming cars to alert them of the accident, until I was far enough away that flashing would be unproductive.

As I continued west toward home, I saw yet another vehicle off the road, with help already there. Much closer to home, twice I met emergency vehicles with flashing lights probably on the way to help others on the snowy roads, since the vehicles I had passed were too far from Wellsboro to receive help from our borough emergency vehicles.

This snow, the most we have had at one time this year (measuring 16 inches on my back deck) has slowed us all down, and I think has given us yet one more way to help those who are in some kind of need. Out shoveling this morning, I learned that the mystery person who plows my drive, had done so before I tried to shovel a path toward the garage or shovel the walk for our mail carrier who will come later today.

In some way to repay the kindness of the man plowing and many other kindnesses, I look for ways to offer assistance to others. I cannot always help, but I see that many others also make the effort to help. We are community to one another on good days but especially on the more difficult days. We may not all be a Christian community, we may not all think of God, but we do think of “other” and that is a Godly thing.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Winter stays in Welsboro

It is Thursday and I am way behind on this blog (and Sunday’s sermon, too). But the sun is shining and the world bright with new snow - a good time for writing.

I was away Monday through late Wednesday at a Disciples Clergy Convocation so getting back offers me a view that was different when I left. Today, I could do snow angels on my front lawn, something this lawn has not seen in years. I live on a street with just two kids - they play outside virtually every day, but mostly in the winter they slide down their hill on a round plastic sled. The frozen water is in keeping with the hose and water fights they had to stay cool last summer. It is nice hearing them laugh for the sheer joy of living - when their parents are out too, the chorus is of four voices laughing.

This family offers an example of what can be in families these years. They bike together in the summer. The boy, who just turned six, has his own bike and helmet and pedals hard to keep up with his dad. Mom generally has the girl, four, riding on the back, though she may be getting old enough to have her own bike this summer. Each of them wears a helmet selected to suit unique personalities.

Biking seems to be in the genes of this family. As a family, they bike to the town square to watch the town band play on alternate Wednesday evenings. They bike to our little downtown and do a bit of shopping - bringing home just what can be carried in baskets. And they bike to visit the (great) grandmother who has recently moved into assisted living just five or six blocks away.

Biking is not just a family affair - the dad goes for extreme biking early some Saturday mornings - waving to me as I head out for the gym -- in my car, I might add. Watching the father go for super workouts as I get into the car for drive to my exercise makes me feel sheepish. Since moving here, I have given up riding my bike because there are too many very steep hills.

There is positive news about my biking riding: I will be riding again as soon as the snow and ice is melted to train for a 15-mile ride. Some friends and I are doing our own triathlon on June 4th. We will swim 300 yards, bike 15 miles and run a 5K. After this feat of endurance, we plan to have lunch together. The triathlon will be fun - but what is more fun is “training” as a group. One morning a week, we swim for 30 minutes (6AM!) and on Saturday mornings when the outside temperature reaches double digits, we walk four miles. I just bought shoe tracks so that I won’t fall on the ice and snow. We are pretty impressed with ourselves as we push up hills and go through the town cemetery pausing only occasionally to read an inscription or two.

As we walk our four miles, sunscreen on, I can see why people call this “God’s Country” because it does have spectacular scenery and views that poke through trees. Many folk from New Jersey (called Flat-landers*) move here so they can always have the view, the clear air and the quiet when they want, and sedate excitement generated by Laurel Festival and Dickens Weekend, national off road car races while still having access to the city for smog, Broadway plays and hotdog vendors.

*PS - Coloradans are called “flat-landers” even though we come from the mountains. Natives are “ridge runners.”

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The church as welcoming

Church planting is difficult. Getting a message out that says we are a different kind of church sometimes sends a message that we are so different that people ought to stay away. That difference came home to me recently in a conversation that included this statement: “I know you are trying to build a gay church ... “

I think I stuttered or at the very least was speechless, because I am not trying to build a “gay church” rather, I am trying to raise up a church that welcomes EVERYONE. EVERYONE. EVERYONE. I know that many churches only want certain people. I know that those sitting in the pews who support the church only want certain people.

Long before I was ordained, I was a sociologist and I still think “sociologically.” In early sociology classes we learned that people like to be with people who look like them. For instance, when I enter a room with equal numbers of unknown people, males and females, I generally head straight to the females who are my age and who are standing either alone or in a group of females who are further distinguished by being dressed in similar clothing. That is just where my comfort zone is.

This seeking of like individuals goes on in church as well as in a gathering, which is why 11AM Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week. We each attend the church that looks like us. So, when I invite all to worship on Sunday morning and those who come to visit see whites and African-Americans, college professors and unemployed workers, some dressed to the nines while others are wearing less formal clothes, only the very secure and determined will return.

I am having a crisis of church building - perhaps it is a crisis of faith. I always thought God accepted everyone and churches should welcome everyone. But when I learn that if we welcome and accept gays or those with physical and mental handicaps or those with wardrobes from Goodwill, then others are going to stay away, I am saddened and disheartened. At that time, I see no hope for this different, struggling congregation, or for religion in general. This may be the message that Americans who stay away from church are sending.

When I first moved to Mansfield, my new spiritual director told me that if the church plant did not succeed, that I should not think that seeds were not planted. God works in mysterious ways, said he. I hope so. Because we NEED to sit next to each other and learn each from other - our favorite food and our unique ways and our hopes and dreams. Otherwise, we might turn out to be in such disarray that we don’t recognize our brother or sister. Then we should wail, doubled over in grief.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Be It Resolved ...

Many people who resolved to change their lives on New Year’s Eve/Day have determined it is much too difficult to make those changes. And, it is. It is difficult to stop smoking, to stop eating without thinking, to add exercise that take off pounds and inches we vowed never to have on our sacred bodies. I have had those intentions, too. In my life, the most difficult to keep were those that, today, make me most proud of myself.

Here are a few:

I vowed to exercise on a regular basis and with only a few lapses, have kept that self-promise. The degree of intensity is not as great as it was 30 years ago but I am still keeping on. Thirty-years ago, my husband and I vowed to exercise together. After a few days he stopped, saying that he did not enjoy the exercise. That was the end of his exercise effort.

It was a different New Year’s Day when I decided that I would stop procrastinating and get a career (rather than a job). That career, starting nonprofit organizations, lasted 20 years, though not in the same physical location. The job (teaching as adjunct faculty at University of Colorado in Colorado Springs) was in the same place with changing faces. For much of the 20-year span, I liked the teaching but never felt as though I had what it takes to teach even though my students rated me quite high. The career (the one before this pastoring thing) was right up my alley. Start a program, grow it, watch it flourish and leave it to those better suited to administering.

One day, a June day not a New Year’s day, I resolved to go to seminary. Looking back, I see that this calling combines the things I do best: preach and start new things. I also see that I needed the sometimes painful lessons I learned in the first two parts of my working life to be successful at what I am now doing.

Interesting that it was not a New Year’s resolution that brought me to this God-directed career but a life change that happened when my mother died. I determined that her legacy was for me to take risks. Preaching and unorthodox ministry are risky. What I worry about most - and who would not? - is that I will fail at this. I worry because my vanity would suffer but I worry more because I can’t stand to disappoint God.

How does God deal with those who have been a disappointment? In scripture we learn that God is well-pleased, protective of the people, attentive because help is often sent, and even when the people in the Older Testament forget about the covenant, God remembers and keeps it. Maybe my disappointing God comes under this last: God remembers and keeps the covenant. Even so, I want perfection at this unorthodox ministry and I see that as a person, perfection is beyond my grasp.

My New Year’s resolution for 2011? Don’t worry so much about what God “thinks” and don’t worry about disappointment. The worry would be if I never tried. So far, this year, I have kept this resolution, though it is early times. When I find a grocery line, I stand in it to see what conversation develops. When a door for a dialogue about how I view God and religion opens I take it. And when I worry that God could find someone to do this better, I remember that God has many people who do ministry differently to reach those who are different from those I am called to lead. I think God’s disappointment would come if I did not try. And then, God would understand and love me anyway. How great is that?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

An unsavory topic for a new year

It is the first of the new year - twenty eleven. As I sat watching more television than usual this New Year’s weekend, I was alarmed by a series of commercials that ran over and over. They were sponsored by SPCA and featured many well known actors pleading for financial support for this organization. Watching was terrible and hurtful - just what they wanted me to feel. As I watched, I remembered the years when I was Executive Director for nonprofit organizations that relied on generous donors for the funding to provide services to the poor, the destitute, the homeless, the single mom left to raise her child(ren) with no resources. At the time, I was aware that it is easier to raise money for animals than for humans. The barrage of television “public service announcements” reminded me of the horrifying lot of those who live at the bottom of the social scale - they are below even our animals.

This evening at church (Soul Link Faith Community at 1103 S. Main Street, Mansfield, PA) we begin a three-week series on “human trafficking” - the illegal trade in human beings for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor: a modern-day form of slavery. The United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) have both been vocal about this issue over the past year. I am late offering it in this area, but beginning this evening, we offer this series on human trafficking. Tonight, we view “Holly” the story of one man’s effort to save one girl. Several people I know will not be with us as we explore this horrible topic as they cannot bear to see the videos or engage in the discussion. Me too. I can’t stand to see the horrible things we humans sometimes do to each other. But I cannot ignore the problem; educating myself and others about it is the first step to making changes.

At Soul Link we think that God asks us to be aware, to be informed and to take whatever action we can. If you live in Mansfield/Wellsboro area, I invite you to attend this series that includes videos and thoughtful discussions. We may never make a difference in the lives of those enslaved but unless we learn, we cannot do anything. The video begins at 7PM in fellowship hall. We will also gather next Wednesday, the 12th of January and conclude on Wednesday, Jan 19th.