Monday, January 31, 2005

For Aunt Mary

I am astonished
How a human body can be
Diminished by death and then
Reduced by fire to common elements.

Slowly and insidiously
Disease and age robbed dignity and being
From her until there was nothing left but a shell
Of who she was, of what she was made,
Stolen away is
her constituting entity, the very aspect of soul.

Nothing is left but a breathing shell
Asleep and drifting between two worlds
The quintessential essence of her being left
Ungrounded until death comes to claim it.

Then the fire
And what remains
Is a heavy urn of ashes to be scattered
Cast into the strong autumn wind.
Dark and gritty, bits of bone not all consumed
They are greasy and smell
Earthen, metallic, burnt and they cling to my hands.
Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, they float on the wind
And drift in the thin space between two realities.

I am astonished that we can reduce
A human life down to a handful of ashes and a short homily.
Where did that baby go, full of life and promise?
Where did that young girl scamper off to, full of sunshine and curiosity?
Where did that young woman walk off to, her heels clicking happily on the pavement?
Where did that young wife dance to, full of her beloved?
Where did that mother go, loving her children into adulthood?
Did she too drift off into the wind,
Diminished and reduced down to her essence?

As the wind caresses my face, I feel the gentleness
Of her hand, the laughter in her voice, the softness of her hair.
The sky sparkles with the incredible blueness of her eyes
And I sense her presence.
Her ashes float in the circle of mourners until
They fill the void between us and we can
Come together and mourn her loss
And fill in the blanks left
By the brevity of our words.
As we did in Communion moments ago,
We can re-member the Body, we can join in unity of song,
Singing the harmony of body and soul, spirit and flesh.
We remember her life and thus do honor her spirit.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Are you part of the upper class?

I love these quiz thingys. It's nice to know that I live an "alternate" lifestyle. Neither liberal or conservative -- radical, hopefully like Jesus.

You scored as alternative. You're partially respected for being an individual in a conformist world yet others take you as a radical. You have no place in society because you choose not to belong there - you're the luckiest of them all, even if your parents are completely ashamed of you. Just don't take drugs ok?



Middle Class


Upper middle Class


Luxurious Upper Class


Lower Class


What Social Status are you?
created with


It's been a busy busy week. I tried (to no avail) to quit my web job (bleh). I pitched the idea of the online Candler Exchange to the student body at the "State of the School" address. I still haven't received "permission" from the powers-that-be, but that's really par for the course. I have been visiting the older Adults, trying to organize the tape ministry into something that involves more than one person, talking to some of our men who need a meatier Bible study about starting one on Tuesday mornings at 7:00 am (and thinking to myself "hmm... I'll just use the Monday night Ladies Bible study material -- there won't be any overlap -- recycling!), a 2 hour worship committee meeting, a 3 hour staff meeting, planning for our Friday night Film Fest, integrating the theme of "Spring Training" into all the programming areas of the church (Baseball movies for Friday night -- whoo hoo, what fun! (and is Lent suppposed to be "fun"?)), organizing a method of growing Christian Ed, planning for the new building, writing ordination papers, writing two papers for class and two sermons, a case study, a verbatim, choir practice, study for Christian Believer and Disciple, taking the girls to GS and karate, the 5th grader's "hobby" project, the 3rd grader's "Black American" project. Hmmm... I think that's all =o)

I need to write the Ash Wednesday Liturgy -- I don't remember who is preaching, I just hope it's not me! Two surgeries next week, another on the 9th. Lots left to do.

I am so glad we are iced in today -- but with electricity. Tomorrow, I hope we are iced in again, because I could use the rest. Church really does recharge my batteries -- and I don't have any responsibility in the morning except for the "Prayer of Dedication" for the offering and my Lectionary SS class -- by now I can do both of these with little prep. But there is also my Christian Believer class, I am fixing a pot of chili for the chili cookoff tomorrow at 6:00 pm and then Disciple I at 7:00. I could use a lazy Sunday at home. And the Senior Pastor is out of town next week for the National Pastor's something or another in San Diego. I will *never ever ever* commit to two long term, intense Bible studies on a Sunday again. Never ever. 12 weeks left to go.

And about the sermon this week -- thanks for the comments. It went well. I have some experience and know that I would be ok -- and I was dreading listening to the other's sermons in the class -- it can be so very painful. But it wasn't too bad. Mine wasn't the best (only second best -- ok, I have a few ego problems) but I thought I did very well -- so much of communication is non-verbal and I thought I did a good job with the intonation and rhythm. Good focus, good energy. The only thing I could improve upon would be adding a more personal illustration. Also, I *hate* being timed. A 4 minute sermon can be four minutes with one group, 2 minutes with another and 8 minutes with another. You have to read the group and adjust accordingly.

The other sermon I did was in another advanced preaching class -- smaller group. We were to "preach" a psalm with intonation, body language, inflection, facial expressions, gestures -- we were allowed to adjust the Psalm for beat and rhythm, but not change the words or meaning. We were allowed to have background music. I was assigned Psalm 137. It was interesting. The instructor tapes us and views the tape over and over again for vocal anomolies and what not. She is a professional actor with the Alliance Theatre and also has theological (seminary) training and even though it's excruciatingly painful, it's very useful.

I'm going to a workshop in March with Fred Craddock. It seems this is a semester for preaching.

What does it say about me that I overcommit? What is the theology to be found in being overwhelmed? What am I saying about my image of God in this? I love to be busy -- I'm a high energy person. When I'm moving, I'm moving. When I'm still, I'm very very still. I do both -- I need both. I have always been the "rabbit" in the "tortise and the hare" story. I don't know the bit about "slow and steady wins the race." I don't know if I can do that. Is that a bad thing?


Yesterday, my friend A and I visited with several of our older adults. We had arranged a lunch date a couple of weeks ago, but I didn't make it to visiting people on Wednesday, so I decided to hit two birds with one stone and took A along for the ride. One of the ladies we visited slipped last Saturday and fell in her bathroom, hitting her head. She didn’t tell anyone – not even her spouse of 60 years. She must have developed a slow bleed and the pressure built up. She complained of a headache on Sunday night that analgesics could not touch. By Monday morning, she couldn’t stand. The EMTs were called, Monday night she was operated on and she remains in a coma. Her husband is staying in the ICU waiting room, patiently waiting. They allow him to go and sit with her for an hour and then he waits in the waiting room for an hour. When we arrived at the hospital, he was sitting with his head hunched down, his hands dangling between his knees. The doctors don’t hold out much hope for his wife of 60 years and he sat there like a broken man. Now my friend A was a RN in her 20s. She had a brain hemorrhage when she was 25. She is now an at-home mommy, whose self-image has been damaged. Since her surgery, she has developed seizure disorders and lost much of her self-confidence. Her nursing career was so much of her identity – and as you may know, our society does not value the at-home mommy. She too is a broken person. She is an engaging, entertaining person, but one who is so lacking in self-confidence and value, that even when external validation comes along, she does not put credence in it. When we got there, A saw R’s husband and some of that old nursing instinct took over. She went to him and put his hands between hers. He rose to his feet and A whispered things in his ear for a while. They both teared up, embraced and held each other. After a while, he broke away and looked A in the eyes and said "Thank you so much." He went on to imply that what A said to him was the most hope-filled thing he had heard all week. I knew that I stood on holy ground at that moment. I watched them offer healing to each other. They reached out and were able to minister to each other out of their individual pain. Now this was not planned – I had planned to go to lunch with A long before R fell. It was a moment of serendipity. And I wonder -- is there really such thing as “serendipity?” And I wonder if serendipity isn’t just the little anonymous miracles that God does everyday.

“Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to care for strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them; and those who are ill-treated, since you also are in the body.” -- Hebrews 13:1-3

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Beautiful Feet

Not much time to blog this week. I am still getting used to the routine of going to class. Two preaching classes this semester. Here's a sermon I am giving today. Let me know what you think.

Romans 10:14 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’

Beautiful Feet
Topic Sentence: What makes our feet beautiful? When we are using them to help spread the gospel.

Did you read it in the newspaper recently? Ugly feet may affect your Valentine’s day.
January 25, 2005
Valentine's Day Tip: Rough, Ugly Feet Turn Cupid Off
It's difficult for most of us to feel romantic when we see yellow, discolored toenails or feel the scratch of rough, cracked heels. Without a doubt, when a person's feet are unattractive to the opposite sex, it can dramatically affect their self-confidence.

Sounds bad. Let’s stay away from that – we want beautiful feet. So, do we go to the pedicure parlor to have beautiful feet? Or is Paul saying something different here? ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ -- Beautiful feet come from spreading the good news of Christ.

Now we know he is quoting Isaiah because Dr. T assigned both texts and we students always read all our assignments in seminary. The context in the Isaiah passage relates to the messengers who will run far and long and who deliver the news to Israel that their days of bondage in Babylon are over—their captivity to Babylon is over and their days of darkness are over! Is that not also the Gospel of Christ? That our days of bondage are over? That now we dwell in the Light?

As seminary students, soon we will be called to carry the Gospel and preach it so that our congregations will hear the good news, that they will know Christ, believe on him and call on the name of Jesus as Lord and deliverer. As seminary students, we stand here together, our feet planted firm on the Rock of Christ —here to learn how proclaim the good news.

But when I think of feet, I cannot help but think of other images: Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, Mary anointing the feet of Jesus. The bruised and bloodied feet of the runner climbing the mountain to proclaim the word of God, the bruised and bloodied feet of Christ on the Cross. Our feet too are washed clean of sin, and as priests of God, as preachers, pastors, our feet are anointed to spread the Word of God. But they also will be bloodied feet, bruised feet as we spread the Gospel. Maybe that is what makes beautiful feet. Our feet going where they are sent, regardless of the rough stones and rocky way -- following the feet of Christ. Do you have beautiful feet?

Monday, January 24, 2005

a second time

a second time
innocence robbed by my lies
the garden will not cannot hold me for the gross

and insidiously
deceptive lying He will not allow it
i cannot become that which is and was and is to

come i cannot
be who He wants i cannot stay in the sanctuary
in the asylum for there is no refuge for refuse and no harborage

for rejectamenta
i cannot find rest i cannot find
solace in/within my twisted self i want the garden

i want a sacred moment
where the excreta worthless and fit only for throwing away
is reclaimed by the ground absorbed into the goodness of the soil

i seek only harborage
in this storm i seek the womb of that garden
out of which i was thrust screaming and panting for breath what do i

have to do i can
only draw on one side of the page today
without letting the pencil rub through to mar the bright polished surface

of that unsullied plain
in work He allowed me to grow the grapes
and the wheat the conduit that will bring me back to that garden

i grew them in a garden i
want respite i have said that prayer i have
done that penance what do i have to do what more do i have to be

before i too leap

onto the table in joy
with the completion of that job finished
on that table i find the garden i find the ease i find the stuff

that the wasted soul
requires and it is freely given freely
drawn from a well of no end and for a second time i dwell within innocence.

I wrote this the day after two separate events: I watched Luke Timothy Johnson literally leap onto a table from the floor flat-footed -- a joyful man, a compassionate man, a man who challenges me to be better that I am alone, a man whose beautiful spirit will fill a room. He didn't give me an "A" but the grade I deserved -- this was justice, but through his lectures, I also learned of mercy and grace.

He leapt onto the table from joy and perhaps a lack of hubris, then I went to a Chapel service and remembered Christ -- we re-membered the body of Christ, and I received Grace a second time that day. I had baked the bread and we used homemade wine from the grapes that a fellow student had grown. We created, from God's good gifts, our communion elements. We were allowed to help shape and form the conduit by which we received His grace. I cannot use pre-packaged communion elements anymore -- or I have in nursing homes/hospital rooms, but I haven't done it in worship since that experience. There was Grace to be found in baking the bread in prayer, then partaking of that bread in community.

I miss the Table in services that consist only of Word. It feels as if we are only drawing on one side of the paper. The garden is the place where we were in perfect communion with God, before the fall -- and it is from the fruit of a garden that we can still rejoice in communion. We were thrust from that garden and our innocence was lost -- through Grace we will regain our place in that garden and for a second time our innocence will be given to us. In communion and thanks we can dwell for a while in the Kingdom -- which is, and was and is to be. The Kingdom is already -- and not yet. When I re-member the Body in community, the Kingdom exists for a moment full of Grace and I can imagine what it will be like to dwell in that Grace forever.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

The Last Road Trip

My mother was really big into genealogy. I start to understand now that I have turned 40. Modern science tells us that we may now live as long as 120 years old but I feel that I have reach the “middle mark” of my life. I reach out for connections to the past as I search of a sense of heritage, of who I am and from where I came and by doing so I somehow reach into the future. It is a basic urge of humans to want to make a mark on this world, to leave a heritage, to know that we exist and know that we were. I like Buddhist koans. There is a koan that goes: “What was the state of your face before your ancestors were born?” How am I to answer that?

My mother was really big into road trips. We would pack up in the car and visit cemeteries. I think that this is a particularly “southern” thing to do, however I know of several “Yankee” families that do it as well. Many of my relatives are buried in perpetual care cemeteries, but most are not. On Decoration Day (or Confederate Memorial Day) we would take rakes and plastic bags and clean up the graves of Mama’s grandparents in Marietta. In the last few years, we fell out of the habit of doing this, and now I don’t think that I could find most of these cemeteries.

Recently, when L was a baby and K a toddler, my mother and I took the girls and her cousin Norma on what was to be our last road trip. We took back roads and twisty country lanes and ended up at a cemetery that had fallen into almost complete disrepair. Norma and my little family were the last descendents of this branch. In fact, neither my mother nor I am directly related -- it is a collateral line. Norma was the absolute last descendent. She did not have children that I know of and since she died two years ago, I am certain I will never find this graveyard again. There were 50 or so graves on the “white” side and hundreds on the “slave” side. It was the graveyard of a plantation that had long since disappeared called “Chestnut Grove”. The last burial from Norma’s family was done in the 1870’s, however the descendents of the slaves of this plantation continued to use the graveyard. The latest stone dated from the 1950’s.

When we got there, after winding through the North Georgia mountains, we exited the car into a cool mist. It was a dank and gray November morning, the roads slick with moisture. The mountain laurel was dark and dripping wet and the woods up the hill were forbidding. Everything was brown or black except for the slash of road up the hill glowing a bright Georgia red clay. Someone had recently laid “crush and run” on the road and installed a chain with a lock across the road. Norma and I decided to go up the hill and leave my mother and the girls in my car. We began to trudge up the hill into deep woods. After a while the road gave way to a small path and branches started to slap us in the face as we climbed. It wasn’t very far -- maybe 1/2 mile, but I felt that I was entering an ancient and primeval forest. The feel of the woods was not benign. We reached the top of the hill and both Norma and I were surprised. The last pictures of the hill that Norma’s family had taken were on a Decoration Day in the 20’s. In the ensuing 90 years or so, the woods had taken over. The sunny hilltop in the black and white photographs had been completely reclaimed by the mountains. The graves beyond the little fence, down the hill -- the descendents of the slaves, had been slightly better taken care of. Many of the stones had toppled and were unreadable. More were just missing. Later Norma and I found out that some of the locals had been taking the large polished slabs of granite and marble and laying them out as paths, carved side down, in the local church graveyard. The stones were being recycled. I felt a strange sadness as I learned this. I ached for the people I never knew, never loved, never mourned and now I would never know their names or where they were buried. Norma and I saw the ghost of writing on a large slab of stone, but could not read it. We decided to hold the stone up to the light to see if we could get the weak November sun to cast a better shadow. As we lifted the stone up, we disturbed a bed of scorpions. They skittered over the stone and our hands. We both screamed and jumped back, dropping the stone and shattering it into several big chunks. I stepped back onto another grave and my left leg went in up to my knee. I pulled myself out and peered into the hole I had made, but couldn’t see anything. Oddly enough, I wasn’t spooked at the time, but on later reflection I realize that this is the sort of stuff that Hollywood loves to use in movies. It just seemed cold and dirty at the time. Norma and I gave up after 30 minutes or so. We could not find a single grave that had not been ruined by the ravages of man or weather.

Our readings in Disciple 4 in Ecclesiastes reminded me of this last road trip. The vague sadness I felt as I saw the forgotten graveyard are echoed in the words:

“For the living know that they will die,
but the dead know nothing,
they have no further reward
and even the memory of them is forgotten.
Their love, their hate
and their jealousy have long since vanished
never again will they have a part
in anything that happens under the sun.” Eccl 9:5-6

Norma and I made our way slowly down the hill, holding hands, slipping and sliding. We didn’t fall into any more graves, although we did see a large stand of Lady’s Slippers, blooming late in the fall and some beautiful tripartite trillium. By the time we reached the car, we were warmed by our walk, the sun had broken through the trees and the fog was being burned off in the gentle rays of the sun. My mother had a tape in the radio singing with the girls “You are my Sunshine” and had poured coffee for Norma and myself. I loved and was loved, and it was enough.

“Go, eat your food with gladness and drink your wine with a joyful heart for it is now that God favors what you do. Always be clothed in white and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun -- all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might for in the grave where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” Eccl 9:7-10

Friday, January 21, 2005

What is Your Medieval Vocational Personality?

Your distinct personality, The Benevolent Ruler might be found in most of the thriving kingdoms of the time. You are the idealistic social dreamer. Your overriding goal is to solve the people problems of your world. You are a social reformer who wants everyone to be happy in a world that you can visualize. You are exceptionally perceptive about the woes and needs of humankind. You often have the understanding and skill to readily conceive and implement the solutions to your perceptions. On the positive side, you are creatively persuasive, charismatic and ideologically concerned. On the negative side, you may be unrealistically sentimental, scattered and impulsive, as well as deviously manipulative. Interestingly, your preference is just as applicable in today's corporate kingdoms.

Click here to take the test

Thursday, January 20, 2005

She Stands in the Pulpit

a result of a conservative childhood, in a denomination that does not ordain women

She stands in the pulpit,
A fraud and she hopes that no one notices.
A fake, a charlatan, a pretender
A counterfeit ecclesiastic,
Not part of the gentrified male society that constitutes the priesthood.

She stands there with her people expectant, waiting.
Her unclean blood staining her hands
As she handles the Word,
The stains, rust colored and dried, flake off onto the burnished wood.
Suddenly her perspective shifts, and her world has skewed off its’ axis.

She stands there as if she were offal being placed on the communion table,
Unholy and unsanctified, abhorrent and odious.
Worth nothing of value, not meriting sacrifice.
Her sin condemns her and cannot be sent away for
There would never be sufficent scarlet wool or a wilderness large enough.

Self-loathing was consumes her.
The ache of it makes her voice and hands shake.
All around her are the acres of green carpet, the rustle of paper,
Small coughs to clear throats, the cry of a baby.
She brushes at the dried blood.

She stands there her eyes closed and breathes – “God help me through this.”
And she remembers His blood, and the sin, the suffering, the sacrifice.
She remembers the empty tomb and the resurrection.
The stains that are the most detestable will be as if they never were,
All is forgiven, they will be no more.

She breathes and in the depth of the second breath, she remembers –
Mary at the empty tomb -- all
The women at the tomb, the woman at the well
And the woman who begged for the crumbs.
He knew women, he loved women, he cared for women.
He cares for her.

She breathes
She breathes deeply and looks out among His people.
Filled with the Breath, she can look out with assurance.
Her hands no longer shake as
She opens the book and proclaims:
“The Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.”

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Sometimes the Laundry is Just the Laundry

Being where I am in my life right now, I over-think. Every human interaction, every event, every story begins to have theological significance. I begin thinking “well, will that preach?” and “do I file this story under ‘grace’ or ‘forgiveness’?” But sometimes the Laundry is just the Laundry.

Dr. Freud loved cigars – he started smoking at 24 years of age – he modeled himself after his father, who smoked until his death at age 81. His father, to young Sigmund, typlified the German/Austrian work ethic – a strong ethic of hard work and rigid self control. Sigmund stated smoking when he started his life’s work. For 50 years or longer, Dr. Freud’s live was encircled by the odor and haze of cigar smoke. He lived a highly structured life, rising early, seeing patients for most of the day, a daily visit to his local tobacco shop. Cirgars were Freud’s sacrament, his habit, his never-changing companion. Late in his life, Freud is quoted as saying, "[cigars have] served me for precisely fifty years as protection and a weapon in the combat of life...I owe to the cigar a great intensification of my capacity to work and a facilitation of my self-control." He called cigars arbeitsmittel or "workstuff," a play on words for the German for food or lebensmittel, “life stuff.”

So, for Freud, was a cigar just a cigar? Or was it an metaphor for his life? My life is surrounded by the Laundry – the mundane tasks of everyday life that seem to consume my time, yet must be done. Will the Laundry ever be just the Laundry? Who knows?

More information about Sigmund Freud and Cigars

* This entire essay is an example of my overthinking stuff. Off to buy more laundry soap.

Monday, January 17, 2005

From Dr. King's Letter From a Birmingham Jail

Was not Jesus an extremist for love -- "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice -- "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ -- "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist -- "Here I stand; I can do none other so help me God." Was not John Bunyan an extremist -- "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist -- "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist -- "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice--or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill, three men were crucified. We must not forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thusly fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment.

May we all practice the radical and extreme discipleship we are called to. Bless you, Dr. King.

Long Day Yesterday

Long day -- 3 worship service, Sunday School, two 2 1/2 hour Bible Studies. Tired. The Senior Pastor was out of town at a Preacher's Convention. The other associate was preaching. On Saturday night, I talked to him and he had not voice. We re-arranged the services to preserve what voice he had. He preached 7 minutes, 10 minutes and then 12 minutes. This led to short services, but we got through. There was loads of confusion about who was teaching what Sunday School (for the second week in a row) and I am taking the Bull by the Horns (which I do well, just call me bossy). New spreadsheet with all the information to be shared with all persons involved. Miscommunication is our largest problem around here.

By the end of the day, I had lost control of my 7:30 Bible Study -- our local funeral home director went into a story about an exhumation that "went bad." Enough to say it involved hip-waders and 3 body bags and Vicks Vapo-cream. It didn't really bother me too much -- actually it was hilarious, but I lost control of the class for a good 10 minutes.

Now I am at home with an ill child and ground in Cheerios in the rug, Mount McLaundry is ready to have a volcanic explosion in the laundry room, there are no clean dishes in the house and my elderly cat has "leaked" all over the sofa (too bad we don't have kitty Depends). My sick child wants ice cream for lunch. I'm going to let her.

I am so used to feeling like I'm losing control, that I am at peace with it. There is really beauty to letting go and letting it flow around me. I guess the secret is that I never had control in the first place.

I held my child in my lap

I held my child in my lap late one afternoon
By rocking in the chair together we were in communion
She was restless and feverish.
I was hot and sticky and tired.
I dozed and her words slipped around me.

Startled I realized that my lack of attentiveness was a sickness
How could I not be attentive to the words of my child?
What illness overtook me?
If I could not pay attention to the small things, how could I trust myself to the large?
What communion could I enjoy if I could not listen?

And I remembered the last communion I took
Tripping over the small things in life, the mundane, the tedious
I traveled up the aisle, with the luggage of worry pulling me back.
The body dissolved, the blood evaporated on the heat of my tongue.
Where was the grace? Where was the peace?

With my baggage arranged around me,
I knelt at the altar to pray but anxiety crowded my prayers.
I could just kneel and stare into the distance.
I was so concerned by my lack of words
I forgot to be concerned with my lack of listening.

But He knows and He prays for me when I cannot pray for myself.
Grace is given and the luggage taken away even though I will take it back
One day it will be gone forever.
He will weep when I cannot.
He will forgive when my heart is hard.
He will attend to me when I cannot attend to Him.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

More about Truth

There are facts that I can know about someone. Facts that I can know and verify in a court of law. Beyond the shadow of a doubt. For instance, a series of facts:

Born 1930 in Georgia.
5 foot 2 inches.
Blue eyes.
Black curly hair.
Wide shoulders.
Graduated High School in 1948.
Married 1959.
Graduated College 1962.
Worked for Southern Bell 38 years.
Took off time to give birth to two children.
Retired 1984.
Died 2001.

Just the facts. It’s the truth, but it's just the facts. The life of my mama in a nutshell. Yet where in these facts is the truth about my mother? Where is the truth about her sweet spirit, her giving nature? Where in these facts do you find truth about her relationship with her parents, her sister, her children and her spouse? Even if I expanded this list to contain hundreds of thousands of facts, would that truth be found there? It would come perhaps in the interpretation.

She sat in a rocking chair for 6 hours straight when I had my tonsils out, rocking and singing to me. Holding me and comforting me. We can interpret that fact – my mother loved me. But that is not stated in the fact – it might be implicit, but it isn’t stated. The feel of her skin against my fevered face, the soothing nature of her soft alto – the way she made me feel loved and safe and secure. Where is that in the facts?

My mother died in 2001. She’s gone, no longer in my life and yet I hear her voice when I talk to my daughters. I hear her voice joining mine when I sing to them. I feel her hand on my shoulders as I rock my own child tonight, her little fevered face pressed against mine. Truth is her spirit lives on.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Shameless Plug

I have started a new venture for my school -- I sorta did it without official permission, but sometimes it is better to ask forgiveness rather than permission. Anyway, I started a new blog to replace the student paper that went out of print 18 months ago after decades of publication.

It's at Please visit and leave comments. Please, please please. And if you don't mind, ask others to do the same.

Thanks, and this is the end of the shameless plug.

The Theology from the Back Seat

Car door slams

Her: Mommy, mommy, mommy!! Guess what! We did SCIENCE today.

Me: Really? What did you do?

Her: We learned that stuff is liquid and gas and solids. We did ‘speriments! We did one called Tiny Bubbles. Did you know that water is liquid and gas and solid? But not all at the same time. We learn that the fizzy stuff in fizzy water is GAS. Did you know that mommy? We shook up a fizzy water bottle and opened it up and it went EVERYWHERE. It was really messy.

(Singing song of own composing)
Tiny Bubbles in the Air, Tiny Bubbles on the snare,
Tiny Bubbles on my nose, Tiny Bubbles in a hose….

Oh! Oh Oh! Mommy, we ATE one of our ‘speriments!

Me: You ATE it??

Her: Yeah, it was (dramatic voice) SO GOOD. We all got Vanilla ice cream and we put it in a glass and we put Sprite on it and we all got (dramatice voice) BENDY STRAWS. I LOVE Bendy Straws. Love, Love, Love. It was SO GOOD. It was like HEAVEN in a glass. MMMMMM.

Me: So it was like heaven?

Her: Yeah, it was SO GOOD. It was smooth and foamy and fluffy and sweet and ‘licious. Smooth with little sparkley bubbles. It was just like heaven. One day we’ll have NOTHING but stuff that’s smooth and foamy and fluffy and sweet with little sparkley bubbles. There’ won’t be ANYTHING sour or bitter or tasting like ‘sparagus or spinach. Just Sweet, Sweet, Sweet. Heaven. (sigh)

Me: That sounds wonderful.

Her: Yeah. Oh mommy! You know how you say that the Word of God is like honey? I think it’s more like a ice-cream float with a bendy straw… Sigh. Wonderful.

Sarcastic 11 year old: Oh yeah? I thought you ate some of your Bible and it tasted like paper ….

Her: Mommy! She’s making fun of me!

11 year old: And she made spit-balls out of it….

Her: Mommy!

Me: Girls…..

Girls: (giggles) (spontaneous round of “Spitball me Jesus Over the Homeplate of Life.”)*

How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
~ Psalm 119:103

My children, eat thou honey, because it is good; and the honeycomb, which is sweet to thy taste. So shall the knowledge of wisdom be unto thy soul: when thou hast found it, then there shall be a reward, and thy expectation shall not be cut off. ~Proverbs 24:13 & 14

* From Cotton Patch Gospel

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Lost Sheep

I have been thinking about the parable of the lost sheep quite a bit lately. Our church congregation is in the midst of upheaval and growth that is way beyond my personal experience. With this tremendous influx of people, there has been an smaller exodus of people. A natural ebb and flow – I am aware of that, but an ebb and flow that in a way is disturbing, unsettling to me. I am a nurturing person by nature – it may be a part of being a mother, or it may be a part of the training as a teacher and pastor – I don’t know. This exodus of people disturbs me – why are they leaving? Is it because they don’t like the services? The people? The full parking lot? Are there too many in worship now? Has our growth taken away and diminished the unique charm that characterized our church?

There are two differing philosophies about this ebb and flow. There’s the “don’t let the door hit you in the butt” philosophy that I have seen. When a family or an individual leaves a church, there is no inquiry about why – just the general attitude “well, we’re better off.” If we don’t ask ourselves why they are leaving, can there be growth happening in the congregation? Isn’t the Christian thing to do to ask? If not to keep the individual or family in the church, but to understand how and where we didn’t fit their need and to honestly and prayerfully look at ourselves and see if the fault lies within? Of course people are going to leave because it is a bad fit: the worship isn’t right for them, our theologies don’t mesh, it’s too far to drive for community. But there are bad reasons to go as well – there were harsh things said, done, implied. Feelings hurt and individuals offended. In that case, we need to examine why the person left the flock.

There’s the philosophy of looking for that lost sheep. It’s our biblical directive. But the parable leaves questions unanswered. Who do you leave in charge when you go looking for that lost sheep? Can we assume that they will just naturally stick together? Won’t more wander off without an assistant shepherd? What if the lost sheep doesn’t want to be found? What if it really does want to join another flock? What if the sheep is so wounded that you can’t move it? What if it was wounded by the other sheep of your flock? What if your flock has been wounded by this sheep? What if it was I that wounded the sheep?

I am tending a few lost sheep right now. A couple of them have been hard to deal with. One doesn’t want to be found – he kicks and bites me when I get too close. He hasn’t been in a flock in so very long – and there are burrs in his coat and his hooves need tending. I can’t even catch him – all I can do is sit on a rock within eye range and patiently wait for him to come to me.

I am tending one who is too wounded to move. She lays there and bleeds. I tend the wounds, but they are taking so long to heal. Her wounds are self-inflicted – I am afraid that one day, she will bleed to death.

There is another wounded one who is too wounded to move, who was wounded by another shepherd. She cannot trust. Here too, all I can do is sit with her and wait.

I am remembering one who had hurt me tremendously. He has hurt half the sheep in the flock: he has hurt me and other shepherds. He has found another flock, but I remember the pain that was inflicted and I wonder if I should issue a warning to that shepherd, or trust that he recognizes this sheep’s behavior.

I can’t not look for the lost sheep. Each has a story – each has a reason, serious or otherwise why they have left the fold. Some shepherds have to stay behind and tend the flock – I do that occasionally, but I cannot forget the faces of those who have wandered off. I can’t help but think about them. I know that God will remember them, and if they wander off, He will look for them. However, some of these are my responsibility, and I will continue to sit with the wounded and wait for healing.

I want to thank Renee Altson for the image of a shepherd that waits.

Also, the picture of the sheep is "Dolly" -- the genetically cloned sheep. My attempt to be clever.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

It's Been Three Years

Dearest Harriet,

It’s been three years today -- how do I remember this day?

I remember the excitement with which I told K and L about you -- I remember the heaviness of my abdomen. I remember our first visit to the Doctor's office and that hope for new life. I remember my heart literally leaping with joy when she confirmed the pregnancy test.

It's been three years today -- how can I remember this day?

I remember the drifting dreams, as I closed my eyes in my rocking chair. I remember imagining your face, dreaming of your life, thinking of the stories of who you could be, imagining the pull of your hunger from my breast. I remember wondering if you would be dark like K or light complexioned like L. The anticipation was wonderful, the hope was sustaining through the nightmare of my own mother's death. I thought of you as Harriet Marie. I could feel you grow daily.

It's been three years today - how should I remember this day?

How much of my own life would I give to know the color of your eyes? How many years of my own life would I give to have you live a year, a month, just one day? I remember the pain with which the Doctor told me that you would not live, that I was going to miscarry. I had carried you for months, how could this be? You had a name, you had identity, I imagined could feel your soul. I had felt your fish-like motions in my body, you kicked out in joy, you had life -- and then there was nothing. They called you "fetal tissue," but you were and always will be my Harriet.

It's been three years today.
And I dream of you.

Thus says the LORD: "A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are not." Jeremiah 31:15  

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


I'm nerdier than my husband. What! Here's his score

I am nerdier than 75% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

Of course, it takes a real nerd to appreciate this rendition of Also Sprach Zarathustra. It is truely awful. Horrible. Auditory Torture. I suppose only a nerd would be so amused.

BTW, I think that I am merely well educated, not a nerd. I think it's important to own a graphing calculator (as an ex-math teacher, it seems natural), I own a microscope just because and I had a periodic table in my classroom for 13 years so *of course* I know most of the elements. I think the test might be faulty. Of course, I have lots of ideas on how to make it less skewed.....

Anger is my Enemy

Eternal God of the Elements,
Anger is my enemy.

The Anger that lives within me
Is a raging, hot demon
                                     Dark, Hot, Evil.

Like magma bubbling to the Earth’s surface
My anger bursts forth
Exploding into the atmosphere
Destroying everything it touches.

It destroys peace.
It destroys respect.
It destroys me.

It burns love up in a flash
Love of my children,
             Love of my Husband
                         Love of myself.

Eternal God of the Elements,
Transform my anger into the fire that burns and does not destroy.

The cleansing fire that burns so that
All that is left is that which is eternal and pure,
Refined over years or just minutes.
The bush of your Presence,
The silver of the cord which connects us
And the gold of the Word.

Eternal God of the Elements,
Anger is my enemy.

Monday, January 10, 2005

The Truth is...

I am nerdier than Joey Gibson! Ha!

I am nerdier than 95% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

(True nerdiness comes out because I emailed the author of the quiz and said that it didn't contain any references to blogging...) Ha!

Truth is Slippery

For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. 1 Corinthians 1:19

Truth is a slippery thing. I don’t know if it ever can exist – at least the truth that humankind can create.

I wrote a little essay on my grandfather and a moment in time where my life suddenly went askew. Not very many people are left in my family of origin and I thought that my Cousin Lizzie would really enjoy it. I started to read it.

“As I was looking through my books for a Bible that included the Apocrypha this week, I found the Bible my Maternal Grandparents gave me when I was 7 years old. While I flipped through its pages an old white index card with Papa’s writing on it fell out along with a couple of Xeroxed sheets of paper.”

“Now wait a minute!” she said.


“That’s not right! Papa was your paternal grandfather.”

“Yeah, I know, but it makes a better story this way.”

“But that’s not right! You need to get your facts straight! You can’t go around messing up the facts! You’re passing on bad information. You can’t do that!”

I stopped and looked at her over my glasses and saw that she was really upset. Lizzie is the family genealogist and very concerned with accuracy. She did this genealogy stuff professionally and it was a very important thing to her. The truth that I was trying to tell was a spiritual thing – about how a life of faith (represented by that index card) is completely encompassed and enfolded into the larger stories of the faith of our ancestors. And as a literary device, implying that the person who gave me the index card was the same as the person that gave me the Bible, well, it’s a nice touch.

We each wanted truth, but a different truth and went about it a different way. She is very detailed oriented and for her it’s important. My husband as well – he writes accounting software. He subscribes to the philosophy “God is in the details.” For me, the story can tell a truth that transcends the details – but them I forget to balance the checkbook.

In so many ways, my husband and I are opposites. Just the other night we were sitting on the sofa, feet to feet, each of us holding our book or Mac. I was reading email and writing a paper and he was reading a programming book. He said “What ‘cha writing?”

“Well, I am summarizing a thing I found in Trible’s God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality. She does some really interesting exegetical things with chastic structures. I’m wondering if this passage from John….” My voice trailed off and I looked at my husband. I could have been an adult from one of Charlie Brown’s TV specials, because he was hearing “Blah blah blah blah.” His eyes were half glazed over and he was saying “Uh huh. Yeah, Hmmm. Really.”

I said, “What ‘cha reading?”

He said, “Well I picked up this book on UML and design principles. You see there is more to good design than a development methodology, You have to really understand requirements analysis, library management and blah blah blah …”

I felt my eyes glaze and found myself saying “Uh huh. Really. Hmmm. Yeah.” After a while he stopped and we went back to reading.

Our stocking feet were sole to sole and I realized we were mirror images of each other. I am more extroverted, he more introverted. I love the big picture, painting pictures with large sweeps of color. He’s detailed oriented, finding fascinating the workings and the innards of things. I am the female, he the male. And yet we are both grounded in the same things. God, family, love, integrity; the plane defined by our feet, our intersection on the sofa.

I talked to a woman in my Bible study yesterday and she was extremely concerned about the two different accounts of Jesus walking on the water. I kept telling her, well you know that Matthew is very concerned about telling the story to Christians who were Jews who needed see Jesus as the ultimate Jew blah blah blah. I talked and talked. Finally she said, “Yeah, but which account is true?” Truth is slippery. We try to grasp it, but we can’t. I get so “high-minded” that I’m to any “earthly good.” I get lost in the big words we put on our theology (soteriology, eschatology, transubstantiation, supralapsarianism, infralapsarianism -- shall I stop now or dear reader do you want more?) Or we get so bogged down in the details, we lose the purpose – does it matter which account is “the truth” or is the truth of Jesus being Lord over all the truth that matters? Our debates become foolishness and Jesus himself a stumbling block if we do not stay grounded in the grace of the cross.

As for the sofa story – for me it states a truth. For my husband, well, it’s a composite of images, not a literal happening. We do sit foot to foot, facing each other on the couch. We do both use our Macs in this position, sometimes even sending emails to each other while wiggling our toes. But is it literal? No, but it states a truth. And perhaps we all can find a common ground, a plane of communication, a plane full of grace where we are grounded – in God and family and love and in integrity.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

The Theology from the Back Seat

On the daily rounds of school/karate/church/grocery store, from the back seat, by an 8 year old:

Her: Mommy, Mommy? Can I have a bunny? Bunnies are cute, and soft and cuddly.
(singing song of own composing)
Bunny, bunny bunny, you are so funny, sunny, bunny, cute, cute, cute, meow.

Her: Mommy, Mommy? I want a bunny real bad. Do we have to wait until Doodlecat is dead? I don’t want Doodlecat to die, but I want a bunny. We can keep it in the backyard in a special cage made just for bunnies. They make cages just for that! Wow. Just for bunnies. Daddy said God made bunnies able to multiply from birth. I had to wait until (dramatic voice) 3rd Grade! OH OH OH!! Mommy!! Make sure the cage is WOLF-PROOF. Wolves really really like to EAT bunnies. (I am thinking – Wolves in Atlanta? And then trying not to snicker.)

Me: Honey, I will make extra special sure that it’s wolf-proof.

Her: And weasel proof too Mommy.

Me: and weasel proof too.

Her: Mommy why did God make cats want to eat bunnies?

Me: (frozen thought time) Uhh….

Her: You know, I think that God loves cats AND bunnies, but something went wrong and they don’t like each other. Bunnies are scared of cats and cats eat bunnies. That’s Ba-a-a-ad. I’m going to ask God about that one day.

Me: (am I off the hook??)

Her: Mommy, if cats and bunnies could live together and sleep together, wouldn’t the world be wonderful? Maybe one day, God will fix things and cats and bunnies and (dramatic voice) EVEN WOLVES can live together. That would be (dramatic voice) WONDERFUL.
(singing song of own composing)
Wonderful, Wonderful, Wonderful, bunny, bunny, bunny, funny, funny, funny, meow.

"The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace."

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Time to Make the Donuts

I just ran by the church (a habit of mine) and picked up a bulletin. We had a very busy day -- my eldest is now 11 years old. I had planned a party, sorta at the last minute. Well, actually, I conflated two different events. I looked on my calendar and saw the word "Bowling." When I was with my very non-traditional ladies group (we call ourselves the YHWH Sisterhood and our signature is wear fur collars -- I am sworn to secrecy, I cannot tell you why) I would think "Great, Bowling at 3:00." When talking to my daughter I would think "Great, Bowling at 3:00." It did not occur to me until Thursday that they were two different things that I meant by the one word "Bowling" in my calendar.

So, I reserved 4 lanes and ran with it. We had a blast. Birthday cake and fur collars. Wonderful. Ministry and family. After the first hour, the two groups mixed and mingled. A paradigm for my life.

Anyway, because we are so completely organized (ha!), I didn't have the foggest idea what I was doing in worship tomorrow until I read the bulletin a few minutes ago. It lists our retired minister as doing the pastoral prayer at the 8:30 service. Well.... he's out of town. Ok, I'll do it. It lists our ministry intern at leading the Prayer of Dedication. Well... we haven't heard from him since Christmas Eve. Ok, I'll do it, if he doesn't show. It list the 9 baptisms -- Well... the font is now at the back of the Sanctuary, where it's in the path as you enter. Well... OK. Time to figure it all out. Time to write a pastoral prayer and a prayer of dedication... related to baptism. Ok. Oh yeah, and it's my turn to get the donuts. Time to make the .... wait a minute. I'll get get take-out on that. Time to let Krispy Kreme make to donuts. Yeah.

Mmmm... donuts.

Questions, Questions

(OK nevermind. Husband to rescue -- may disregard the rest. Wait, it's still not "flowing" around the text.) Ok, I have been trying to embed images within my text -- or putting 4 little thumbnails right next to each other and having the text sorta "flow" around text and I am getting frustrated. Nothing seems to work. Aarrgghh!!

Secondly, I sent an email teasing my senior pastor (Mr. Traditional, er, Rev. Dr. Traditional (but not really)) about adding a Drum Circle to our Prayer Minstry. He sent back an email saying "go for it." What!! I don't know nothing 'bout no Drum Circles! Is he serious? Does anyone out there know anything about Drum Circles?? What have I done?? Aarrgghh!! (or I could say, Beats me...) (or birthing prayer via the rhythum method) (ok how do you spell rhythum and is there spell check in this thing....)

Rambling on.....

the drum circle idea comes from Psalm Drummers
who state "For thousands of years people have used drums to announce the coming of man. Psalm Drummers use the drum to announce the presence of the living God."

Household of God

I didn’t know I had so much need in me right now. I’m talking about the need to write, to express some of this inexpressible stuff inside me. I know it’s the season for it – and the season for being overwhelmed with school is coming up in a couple of weeks, and that will be followed by another month of this semi-peace/solitude/retreat time while I am out of school and the kids still going. Then that will be followed by the Summer season of concentrated Mommy/kid time while everyone is out of school. I have learned my lesson. I will not be in school myself this summer. I need school, but I also have need for that Mommy/kid time – and that season for solitude and peace. There are constants that run through all three seasons – family, housework and Church. But worship/work/family cycle is such a part of my life that it’s like breathing or eating. It is inconceivable to think of living my week without worship/work/family. There are other constants much more mundane – and I am sure my husband is wondering if it will ever be laundry/dishes/vacuuming season.

But these three seasons also fill three distinct needs in me. Today the ideas are flying out as fast as I can type. I know that this creative energy, if not used, can be destructive – as it did last April (a story for another time.) And I know that this energy will wane when I get into school and I will have to start on another round of papers (12 point type, Times Roman, 1 inch margins, double spaced.) So very regimented. And they insist on things like proper English and a noun and verb in every sentence – and proper spelling. Bleh. I know I write differently during the season of school. I write more in the passive voice. Journaling becomes laborious. The “seminary speak” spills over into this type of writing and those stupid papers begin to rule my life – in the passive voice. I won’t remember really how to write for enjoyment. And yet… The papers must be written, just as these ramblings must be written. I will relearn how to write when I am finished with my schooling.

I know that the school season is necessary – I almost died when I was “nothing” but an at-home mommy. Well, not really, but in a sense my essential self died. Ego died. Self-image died. Self-esteem died. Nothing to satisfy my intellectual side, the side longing for new thoughts and knowledge. But this season is so hard. (whine whine, pity, pity) I’m old enough I feel I cannot compete with the younger set. I don’t have a sense of community, being a commuter student who lives so very far away. Hard.

And I know that the mommy season is so very important. I never stop being a mommy – who can? The mommyhood is more important that the priesthood – to be a good priest, I have to be a good mommy. It’s not necessary for the mommy to be a good priest – unless she is called to it. But my summer celebrates mommyhood. Just as at every meal we break bread and remember Jesus and it is in a sense communion, when we have the Lord’s supper it becomes transformed, more than mundane -- it becomes a celebration with no distractions and no sense of self. My season of mommy is my season of Eucharist, of thanksgiving. And I treasure it.

My season of solitude fulfills my need for reflection and prayer. My season of school becomes my season of proclamation – hard and laborious and regimented and yet worthy and rich and it spills over into my everyday life, shaping and forming me. My season of mommyhood is my Joy, my Eucharist – it is where I relate to both the vertical relationship between myself and God and the horizontal relationship of myself and my family, where we can become the very Household of God. The vertical and the horizontal become bound together with love, strong cords and beautiful. In these three season, my life begins to parallel the worship service. Life itself becoming worship.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Strangely Wonderful

and thought provoking.

A Really Boring Post on Methodist Itineration

The More Interesting Part
Interestingly enough, yesterday I engaged in several conversations with various and sundry persons about the Methodist system of itineration. Interesting because I have been working on yet another set of papers (this week on itineration) for my District on Ordained Ministry for yet another round of "rip 'er a new one." Also interesting because there was a special about Beth Stroud's church and the 37 year appointment of their senior pastor. This is an unusual appointment -- the longest I personally know of was around 20 years here in North Georgia and the shortest was, well, three days (interesting little story for later.) Interesting because it is one of the things I dwell on a lot because it is going to effect my future and family more than anything else in the life of ministry. (For the information of the Methodists out there -- I am a ministry intern who will (probably) become a Part-time Local Pastor (in a couple of months, Lord willing and BOM don't rise up agin' me) who has complete the educational requirements for that license, but still taking classes for my MDiv so that I can become ordained as a full elder.) If I stay a Local Pastor and do not pursue elder's orders, I don't need any more school (what a relief that would be! Three years of seminary has been grueling on top of the job and kids. (And it would be easier for someone of my "advanced age" (44) according to my Staff Parish Relations Committee.)(I seem to be having a paraenthetical sort of day and losing ground.)) At the rate I am going (half to three quarters time), I have 2 to 3 years more to go. If I stay a PL (Methodist for Part time Local Pastor), I sort of have "free agent" status -- I can ask the conference for an appointment, or I can find my own -- if the church is rated for a PL. On the other hand, PL and FL (full time Local Pastor) aren't laity or clergy at conference -- we have no vote or voice in conference. They also cannot peform the function of a minister except in their own congregation without the permission of their DS (district superintendent, the middle manager between the minister and the Bishop.) If I follow my heart and pursue the Elder's Orders, I am subject to itineration and my family could be moved anytime, anywhere. What to do.... well, I have been thinking and praying about this for 3 years now....

Why do we itinerate? It really does give the minister/preacher the voice of a prophet in their congregation. The minister is not dependent on the good will of the congregation -- if there is sin going on, we can preach and proclaim from the pulpit without threat to our jobs. Hence the strong Methodist tradition for social justice. It makes for very strong lay leadership -- in fact to become a certified lay speaker can required more education than the *average* Baptist minister (at least the average in my area.) The congregation is not based on the personality of the minister -- because Methodists know that that's going to change every 3 to 10 years (the pastor, not his personality.)

What's wrong with itineration? It is harder to truly pastor. By the time you really start to get to know your congregation, you're outta there. And do I have to talk about the damage it can do to your family? And how do you get rid of ineffectual ministers?

Begin the Boring Part

The Meaning of Itineration

The word itinerate is not an old word. It dates from around 1775 and means, “to travel a preaching or judicial circuit” (Merriam Webster Dictionary). Itinerancy is the system by which the clergy of the United Methodist Church are appointed to their churches or circuit (either of which can be called a charge) by their Bishop and subject to their annual conference and is directly supervised by the District Superintendent. The Book of Discipline defines “¶329. The Itinerant System – The itinerant system is the accepted method of The United Methodist Church by which ordained elders are appointed by the bishop to fields of labor. All ordained elders shall accept and abide by these appointments” (¶329. The Itinerant System, Discipline -- 2000). Itineration is not an option as Elder in the church. Every church in the Methodist Church will have a pastor and every minister will have a charge in as far as practicable. Itineration is a distinctive system of the United Methodist Church and is not subject to change. “¶ 17. Article III. The General Conference shall not change or alter any part or rule of our government so as to do away with episcopacy or destroy the plan of our itinerant general superintendency” (¶ 17. Article III, Discipline -- 2000). Today in the UMC, itineration has evolved from its roots in early Methodism. It is said that John Wesley traveled 250,000 miles in 40 years; preached 40,000 sermons; and produced 400 books. But his labors in the end produced the movement that formed the Methodist Episcopal Church. Francis Asbury here in America was called the “Prophet of the Long Road” for the many miles he rode in itineration on the eastern seaboard. To understand the itinerancy system is to understand the heart of the United Methodist connection.

History of Itinerancy
John Wesley was the first itinerate Methodist minister. Wesley felt called to a ministry beyond the traditional parish boundaries. To spread the gospel, he blew past the parish boundaries and parish protocols. He felt that God alone could determine his mission, ministry and preaching. He looked at the entire world as his parish. He began small societies of people to study the scriptures and hold one another accountable to certain rules and principles. He encouraged his people to stay in the Anglican Church and did not consider his movement a denomination. He began riding around central England visiting these societies and preaching to them. He was the first circuit rider. He later recruited other like-minded men including his brother Charles, to assist him in his rounds. “It was this sort of itinerancy on the Wesleys’ part that spread the movement and began to consolidate a network of acquaintances into a ‘connection’” (Heitzenrater, 140).

As the movement spread to American soil, so did the concept of itinerancy. Even before Wesley sent over his first missionaries, there were preachers in the American movement who itinerated, notably Robert Strawbridge. As the first true leader in America. “Francis Asbury was quite content to continue and, indeed, emphasize Wesley’s grand principle of keeping the preachers moving” (Norwood, 77). The great heyday for itineration was in the early 1800’s where the original reason for keeping the preachers moving was to administer the sacraments. As more and more ministers became ordained, this reason decreased and preachers began to locate in one church, to only itinerate every 3 or 4 years. This model, which was decided on in the middle 1800’s was disliked by many in the church who saw the bishop as the military general and the preachers a fast moving cadre, spreading the Gospel of Christ. It was debated, but accepted in both the MEC and MECS before the Civil War. This is the basic model that today’s itineration is based.

Consultation involves the minister, the local Staff Parish Relations committee, the bishop, and the District Superintendents (or more commonly called the cabinet.) This is not a true appointment system in which the one appointed has no say. Nor is it a negotiation system. The characteristics of each and every congregation are closely matched with the qualifications of each Elder appointed. The Bishop represents the Episcopacy of the UMC in that he or she is ultimately responsible for the final decision of which minister to place at which church, however the Bishop does not make that decision alone. He makes good use of the cabinet and the SPR of the local church. The minister must be evaluated yearly by the Bishop to determine if the mission of the church is being fulfilled. Only after consideration and consultation between all these parties does the Bishop make his placements.

“¶431 Consultation and Appointment-Making – Consultation is the process whereby the bishop and/or district superintendent confer with the pastor and committee on pastor-parish relations, taking into consideration the criteria of ¶432, a performance evaluation, needs of the appointment under consideration, and mission of the Church. Consultation is not merely notification. Consultation is not committee selection or call of a pastor. The role of the committee on pastor-parish relations is advisory. Consultation is both a continuing process and a more intense involvement during the period of change in appointment.
1. The process of consultation shall be mandatory in every annual conference.
2. The Council of Bishops shall inquire annually of their colleagues about the implementation of the process of consultation in appointment-making in their respective areas” (¶431 Consultation and Appointment-Making, Discipline -- 2000).

Dissenting Voices
There are definite advantages and disadvantages to itinerate system. It is a system of long history in the UMC. John Wesley said of it "We have found by long and consistent experience that a frequent exchange of teachers is best. This preacher has one talent, that another; no one whom I ever yet knew has all the talents which are needful for beginning, continuing, and perfecting the work of grace in a congregation" (, September 20, 2004). By being appointed to a church and not called, the minister is free to be a prophet in the congregation. However the continual and frequent removal of preachers, the breaking of bonds between the pastor and parishioners, the upheaval of the family of the pastor and other concerns bring in to play the question if the UMC has outgrown itinerancy. There are dissenting voices. “We cannot expect a local church to survive if the clerical leadership is constantly changing. Itineration of pastors in the UMC does not allow for continued leadership. The rapid turnover in other denominations has a similar effect. When a pastor has only 4-6 years in an assignment, it is impossible to bring about renewal” (William P. Wilson, MD,, September 20, 2004). “The Itinerant system, with its promise of guaranteed appointments, while caring for women and clergy of color in ways the call system cannot and does not, needs systemic attention. This includes eliminating the practice of guaranteed appointments that forces bishops to continue to appoint clergy we know cannot or will not provide the leadership needed for the Church today” (Sprague, 59). Perhaps there will be a call the next generation for a change in the itinerancy system similar to the changes in the system in the early 1840’s. However we need to make certain that Methodism will maintain it’s distinctive flavor of connectionalism.

A nice picture of Dr. Tom Frank

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Hospital Visits and Waiting Rooms

I'm tired and so this may be disconnected. (I can hear my husband's voice saying 'So, what's different?') I’ve been up since 4:30 this morning. I showered and did the morning thing and left even before my husband and children woke up. I got to the church and my senior pastor and I got into his car for the very long drive to Emory Hospital. It was grey and raining and we were both tired and not really wanting to go. There’s been tension and stress for the last few months with Advent, holidays, staffing, personality conflicts between some leaders and what not. Tension that comes from a church growing from 150 to 1100 in attendance in 4 years. His internal tension that come from operating well and confidently in a paradigm called “Small Church” and having to transition to “Big Steeple Church” in 4 years with out much growth in staffing and lay leadership. There’s going to be more tension occurring as we build buildings, programming and leadership and I think he’s getting tired. He was off the week after Christmas and for the first time in a long time he was able just to sit and relax and think.

“Big Steeple Church” is going to be different. What do you give up? What do you keep on doing? We also talked about some staffing changes that might occur this week – more stress is coming. How do you plan for it?

Anyway, I was up and out of the house before 6:00 – off to Emory for 2 surgeries. I went to one hospital room and he to the other. By the time I got to the surgical waiting room, J had gone onto surgery and the family was in the cafeteria getting breakfast. I decended into the depths of Egleston (ok, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston, I can never get used to this – too many words). When I got to the basement, I found J’s mom and dad with our children’s minister and youth minister. They weren’t required to come, that is, it was not their day for hospital visits, but they both are such caring individuals that they couldn’t think of doing anything else. I feel that pull – to come and sit and wait – I’ve been in that waiting room myself.

I remember too many times when I had to wait by myself – times when I didn’t know if my husband was going to be OK or not – times when I had to sit alone with a doctor when he told me I needed to sign a DNR. Too many times. My mother’s last surgery, Father Doug sat with me and I will never forget that – there is truly a ministry of presence. Not much needs to be said – your words probably won’t be remembered anyway. My friend P says it this way: “Don’t just do something! Stand there!” And these are words of wisdom.

So today I say with J’s parents and L’s husband and mother and father. And I made small chit-chat. I listened while L’s mother told me how she and L’s father met. I listened to how J’s father ran into a truck with his bike in front of the biscuit shop and the lunch crowd stood and clapped. I listened to the stories and listened to the anxiety and we waited. We talked about God and suffering a little, but mostly we just told stories. They were not earthshattering, thunderous stories of might and glory, but small stories told in quiet voices about little acts of love and small graces and we were in the Presence.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

When I held my newborn babies

BTW, according to Birdie, today is Official Blog DeLurking Day. So if you never leave a comment, please delurk! I'm off to delurk, myself now.

When I held my newborn babies
Close against my heart
Soft, warm and fragrant,
I thought of Mary ----
                          ------holding the newborn Christ Child
                                           Close to her heart

The drifts of incense offered upon
All the altars of the world
Cannot smell as sweet
As the warm breath of the Christ Child,
The ruah of this
                                          God -----
                                                -----against his mother's cheek.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Waters that Harm, Waters that Heal

1 Corinthians 1:10-18

10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ 13Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16(I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)

17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. 18For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Last night, I dreamt of water. I dreamt of building a new house, one with an enclosed pool, into whose waters I could plunge myself as often as I wished. I swam naked and felt the buoyancy of the water lifting me up, supporting me, easing my aching joints. I dreamt that the waters were warm and comforting and smooth. When I was in the rest of the house, there was water in every room – in the kitchen there three sinks, one for cooking and vegetables, one for cool drinking water and one to wash your hands. When I walked into the living room, there was a stream of water running through it, coming from under the door. This stream caused me to slip and fall. I left the house and watched the waters rise and undermine the foundations of the house – and yet, they were not undermined, somehow the house was able to accept the water and not be destroyed or swept away – allowing the water to flow through, under and over it.

I pay attention to my dreams. Risking sounding too much like a mystic (people are always suspicious of mystics), I believe that I can hear God in my dreams. And I wonder what I am to learn from this dream.

It brings to mind Chapter 78 of the Tao Te Ching*

Nothing under heaven
is softer or weaker than water,
yet for attacking what is hard and unyielding,
there is nothing to compare with it.
This is because
nothing can take its place.

It’s Baptism of Our Lord Sunday on the 9th. We are going to baptize 9 infants this Sunday. We also are not going to use the Lectionary readings – but jump ahead a couple of weeks to this passage in I Corinthians. I’ve been dwelling in this passage for a while, thinking about divisions – about not being united in mind and purpose. And I think about the waters that have flowed this last couple of weeks – waters that have risen and have left death and destruction in their wake. And I think about the strife and division that have occurred – first the world united in pain and sorrow, but so many stories have come out about the fighting and discord and disunity.

I think about cups that have been filled and emptied. I think of Paul being poured out like a libation. I think about Jesus emptying himself and the grace that is held in the cup of Jesus' flesh.

I think about the waters of birth – they too come with pain but also a hope. I think about the Living water and the waters of baptism. I think about being born of the water and the Spirit. I think about living in faith and baptizing infants with clean, beautiful, life-giving water -- water that nourishes, refreshes and cleanses, while standing amid the waters of destruction – the muddy waters of the tsunami that swirl around my feet. And I know that although those waters beat against my feet and threaten to pull me under, through the power of the cross, the power that cannot be emptied, I can stand. And I can say “Amen.”

Thanksgiving over the Water**

The Lord be with you.

And also with you.

Let us pray.

Eternal Father:
When nothing existed but chaos, you swept across the dark waters and brought forth light.
In the days of Noah you saved those on the ark though water.
After the flood you set in the clouds a rainbow.
When you saw your people as slaves in Egypt, you lead them to freedom through the sea.
Their children you brought through the Jordan to the land which you promised.

Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Tell of God’s mercy each day.

In the fullness of time you sent Jesus, nurtured in the water of a womb.
He was baptized by John and anointed by your Spirit.
He called his disciples to share in the baptism of his death and resurrection and to make disciples of all nations.

Declare his works to the nations, his glory among all the people.

Pour out your Holy Spirit, to bless this gift of water and those who receive it, to wash away their sin and clothe them in righteousness, throughout their lives, that, dying and being raised with Christ, they may share in his final victory.

All praise to your, Eternal Father, through your Son Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns for ever.

* For this I would like to think Tao at Storyteller's World
** United Methodist Hymnal, Baptismal Covenant I, p. 36.
*** Oddly enough, Barbara Crafton and I both thought similar thoughts this morning. Her Almost Daily eMo today is entitled The Waters of Life and Death.


I get asked to pray. In public. A lot. And so, one of the things I think about a lot is prayer. I pray the Pastoral Prayer, grace when we eat, to start or stop a class or Bible Study, when I sit with people in a hospital room or waiting room. I try to "compose" the prayers in my head before -- I rely on phrases I use over and over -- I compose lengthy prayers for the pastoral prayer based on the Lecionary for that week. Last night my Disciple I class was studying Job. This is a group of people who have been together for a long time (well most of them) and I know their stories. I know that they know the difference between pain and suffering, anger and bitterness. They all have survived cancer or disease or divorce or the alienation of being "different" or living an "alternate lifestyle" or being a woman in a man's world or.... fill in the blank. We tried to talk about Job last night, but we really wandered far off topic -- ending up (of course) with the SE Asia Tsunami. Asking the same old questions, and dredging up the same old answers.

Finally, we ended up talking about prayer. And they asked me to pray. And I didn't know how. Boy, do I have experience. I could have tossed off the basic stenorous phrases I have used in the past, but they would have seen right through me. So I prayed from my heart. We held hands and cried and prayed. I wasn't smooth. Long gaps. Lots of silence. And later I realized that the real prayer was in those silences. God wasn't to be found in my words last night, but in my lack of words. I had to clear my words out of the way to let the Word exist. God many times doesn't exist in the black ink on the pages, but the white fire that exists between the letters.*

And I wonder what happens to my prayers.

Sometimes my prayers issue forth
As leaden ice cubes that plunk in the sand at my feet
And the crabs scurry to take them away.

Sometimes my prayers are butterflies
That flutter away only to live a day in their brightly colored ephemeral existence
Like fragile bones that are unable to support any weight.

Sometimes my prayers are bright hard diamonds
That drift up and embed themselves in the velvet darkness above my bed.
Cold and distant like stars
Suns that I cannot touch and cannot warm me with their power.

Sometimes my prayers are ocean liners
Huge steel behemoth that go where they want
Plowing the water aside carrying great cargo
Impossible to steer.

Sometimes when I pray my attention wanders
And I get entangled with the small tedium of the day
And I hope
My lack of attentiveness is not repaid in kind.

Sometimes I pray in my dreams
The frontier between consciousness and reality recedes
And I drift like a fetus in a womb not of my making
Not sure if my prayer is a dream or the dream a prayer.

Sometimes I can’t pray
The words won’t come and I can only sit in silence
Feeling the exquisite pain of solitude
A symphony of reclusion and stillness
Enfolded in God’s great silence.

*Nachmanides (Rabbi Moses ben Nachman--the Ramban, 13th century Spain and Israel), in his preface to his commentary on the Torah, quotes a Rabbinic source which describes the Torah as having predated the creation of the world. This primordial, spiritual Torah was written in fire, black fire on white fire, and serves as a kind of mystical prototype for the actual, physical Torah, which is written in black ink on white parchment. (From and article written for The Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel.)

Monday, January 03, 2005


“I give thanks to God always for you because of the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him with all speech and all knowledge—“ I Corinthians 1:4-5

Yesterday was a day of words. My newly chosen profession at this point is one of words (interesting the word, profession.) I am fascinated with words – and dictionaries and websites like this. I get so tired of words and yet, how else am I to spread the Word?

I had a good friend who said that words and the capability of abstract thought are the two things that separate us from the other animals – that and the breath of God in Genesis 1.

I noticed a list of “banished words” that Lake Superior State University has authored. No more carbs, enemy combatants, sales events or…. blogs. (Have you ever noticed that Word (the software product) wants to change blog into bogs? How appropriate!) It made me wonder if there are words that I should put onto my own “banished” list – can’t, never, “shoulda, coulda, woulda,” words of hate, rejection, words of exclusivity, words of self-pity and whining, words of anger and bitterness, words that wound and hurt.

And words I should put on a “use more” list – thank you, please – words of gratitude and praise for my God, my spouse, children and friends. Words like enough and peace and Shema. Words on the horizontal. Words that form a bridge between myself and others, a connection. And words that reach out to the vertical, that reach out from my flawed humanity and reach toward the Divine.

We religious types really use the word Word. “And the Word became flesh….” “God (spoke the Word and) said ‘Let there be light.’” Using Word to describe our scriptures. There is such a mystery to this. Our words cannot express what the Word is – the Word cannot be held by our fleeting words. The Word that is spoken -- begotten and not made, a Word that is of one substance with the Father, this Word cannot be contained. This Word is eternal and not ephemeral -- vanishing into the void. The Word was spoken at Creation and still is being spoken, never ending and beyond us, yet we continually reach for it.

God made us in his own image. Of all his creation, God breathed his breath into us. We have some of that creation spirit within us. Our words, too, can have power. The person who first said “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is wrong. Words can and do hurt. If God can speak creation into being and if we are made in the image of God, we too have some small power to create – or to destroy.

What will you do with your words this year? What will I? What will I resolve?* How will I use my words this year? I have decided to use this blogging thing as a sort of spiritual discipline and to just take care – realizing that words have power and to watch my words.

* another interesting word – to resolve is to break up or melt, to separate, to deal with successfully, to reach a firm decision about, or my favorite -- to progress from dissonance to consonance.

Sunday, January 02, 2005


Will be another 12 hour day at church -- or rather, more like 13. 8:30 service, 9:45 Sunday School, 11:00 service, Break to go to lunch with some members (ok, this isn't really *work*), 4:30 Christian Believer class, 7:00 Disciple I class -- wrap the day up at 9:30 pm. Long day.

Been thinking about words, the Word, the words "enough" and "resolution." What will I resolve to do this year? Still pondering. Thinking also about "spiritual discipline" and "calling." Will post when my brain can clear these thoughts and place them in some sort of order.

The Word speaks eternal, but my words drop to the ground and die. Some aren't even birthed, some aborted before they are spoken, some of my words are misspoken and cause pain and suffering and misunderstanding.

Been thinking about words of humor -- and wondering why I can't be "upbeat" here. Maybe it's because I have to be "upbeat" everywhere else -- I wear my "pastor" mask. I remember an article that Will Willimon wrote about that in that book "Pastor." Maybe I'll dig through the books and find it.

Off the the salt mines -- where I *will* encounter the salt of the earth..... =o)

Saturday, January 01, 2005

St. George Light

Nothing upon nothing
One single grand of sand shifts.
One piece,
Gritty between the teeth
Irritates the eye
Weighing nothing upon nothing.

The sand constant in substance
Yet is capricious in form
It piles up forming
Mounds softer than sugar.
The sand cushions the body
Forming itself around limbs
Making blankets heavy,
Millions of grains becoming weighty.

One grain at a time
The sand shifts.
One grain at a time
Dunes are destroyed and rebuilt.
The wind blows the sand weighing
Nothing upon nothing
Until it becomes a force of nature.

The wind blows and the sands shift under
St. George light
Tilting the massive lighthouse
One year to the east
The next to the west.
One grain at a time
Nothing upon nothing moves
And cants the immense tower.

Each of us is nothing upon nothing –
One life meaning so little.
Until the Wind blows and the air breathes
One soul at a time, one prayer at a time,
Nothing upon nothing the prayers mound up and
We shift the vast tower
Of God’s will.

*Painting is from my friend Sam Lyons. My family has been going to this area of Florida for more than 50 years for vacations. St. George's beach is one of the top 10 in the world. The lighthouse is in severe danger of being lost to the sea. This is a foundation to try to save the light. However, it may be too late, as evidenced by this. Note: as of this morning (1/2/05), I discovered that the lighthouse is still standing, but funding is needed to move the lighthouse back to shore. I also got more email from Red Cross and UMCOR about needing funding for SE Asia Relief. Where to give? Such is the dilemma.