Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Two weeks ago, I had this encounter in the Market Basket in Central Plaza here in Haverhill.
For those of you blessed with a Market Basket in your community -- well, you know that you see all types in those stores. More so than in your typical grocery store. Central Plaza seems to have its own special types of people that make life living in an urban setting the adventure that it should be.
But this isn't a story about Market Basket (although I have many opinions about that grocery store and its horrible lack of natural and organic products).
It was obvious by this point that the woman at the front of the line was getting frazzled. She was trying to figure out if she could afford the pack of bagels she was holding or if she should have the cashier put it back along with some other items. I mean - this was a process. High level negotiations were going on...and I was getting ready to jump ship.
The elderly woman in front of me, seemingly out of the blue, asked her if she had children, to which she responded, “yes, and another one on the way,” turning to show off her stomach. All the ladies started exclaiming over her condition and sharing their own pregnancy experiences (a conversation in which I was clearly unable to be a full participant).
The pregnant mother was so grateful for the gesture and so appreciative of the small kindness shown to her. It struck me just how simple it is to show God's love to people around us. While buying someone's bagels at the grocery store may not make the local news, for that woman - who was trying so desperately hard to do right by her kids - those bagels were God's grace. The woman who purchased them may or may not have been a follower of Jesus, but in that moment, she was most assuredly a conduit for God's transforming love and power. In that small, random act of kindness - God's kingdom was made tangible and real.
It's one of the most powerful ways that God's kingdom breaks forth. In the gospels, Jesus likens the kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed - the smallest of seeds that produces the largest of trees. Our small acts of kindness are ways that Jesus makes himself known. String them together and it's a powerful expression of life in the kingdom, with the power to heal, transform, and make us whole.
We have a new branch in The Vine called Urban Kindness. It meets on Sunday afternoons to show some love to the Washington Heights neighborhood. Lately, we've been working on a small abandoned island of green in front of Fantini's bakery (they made a donation to make our Community Garden possible! This is our little thank you gift to them). I hope that as we've been out there for the past few weeks we've been planting more than flowers; I hope we've been planting the seed of hope in the neighbors as they've walked by and seen us in action. I hope we've been planting the seed of community as we've developed a little partnership with the laundromat around the corner who has helped us get water. I hope we've been planting seeds of the kingdom that will be ready to sprout up all over the neighborhood!
Sometimes, it just takes one small action, one small kindness, to change a life. What can you do today to be an agent of God's kingdom?
Friday, May 31, 2013
Being a pastor, I spend a not-so insignificant amount of time thinking about the church and about the nature of the church and about growing the church, and about all that stuff that comes with church (some of it good, some of it not). Most of the time, the forest gets lost for the trees; I get so mired down in the little things (who has come recently, what are we doing, who are we reaching, how much money has come in, etc) that I forget one small little thing: what it means to actually be a church.
It was at a gathering this past Sunday that I was reminded of this. A few of our leaders for The Vine were gathered around after an amazing afternoon lauching Urban Kindness, our group that is dedicated to blessing the Washington Heights neighborhood of Haverhill. We had a wonderful barbecue with neighbors - particularly those who have a plot in our community garden and some others who are newer to our community. (We were also blessed that the weather held off for us!)
We were gathered around the dining room table, talking about who we are - and not being afraid to share that (Do we use the dreaded "C" word or not? Is there "inside" language and "outside" language?). One of the leaders said, simply "we're a group that is trying to figure out how to live like Jesus, how we love people around us more and forgive people around us more and how we live into that life together."
It hit me.
Of course, this isn't earth shattering knowledge. This isn't anything I didn't know already. But in the world of benchmarks and strategies, it's an easy truth to lose sight of ...and one of the few things that should never be forgotten.
That's all church is - a bunch of people trying to figure out how to live more like Jesus. Everything else is window dressing. If what we do together isn't helping people become more Christ-like - more loving, more compassionate, more forgiving, more joyful, more generous, more centered in themselves as beloved children of God - then it's not worth doing.
What if every congregation re-evaluated its work and its ministry in light of this one question: is our life together about living life like Jesus? What if we didn't worry about money or butts in worship - but only about trying to live like Jesus did? I suspect that it would be a lot more liberating for everyone.
Monday, March 04, 2013
So I used to be one of those people who, at Annual Conference, didn't think the resolutions we passed made any difference. Supporting Fair Trade coffee - great! - but does it really matter Petitioning General Conference about the conflict between Israel and Palestine - what's the point? Who actually listens?
After my time at the Young Clergy Leadership Forum last month sponsored by the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church in Washington, DC -- I get it.
First of all -- how cool is it that the United Methodists own the only non-federally owned building on Capitol Hill? They let the Episcopalians, the Lutherans, the Jews, and the Muslims have space in the building. When the building was purchased in 1923, women were the ones who raised 70% of the money. Granted, they were really concerned about temperance at the time and thought a presence in Washington would lend greater support to their position. While the issues may have changed since then, the fact that the United Methodists have a witness right in the center of power is pretty amazing.
Secondly - our legislated positions as a church (those things that get passed every four years at General Conference) allow the General Board of Church and Society to do advocacy work with the House and Senate. I never realized that we had a branch of the church that did this kind of work. We had folks advocating for the health care bill. We have folks advocating on behalf of the poor, marginalized, and those without a voice. All because we as a denomination take stances on issues in the world.
For me -- this what was missing. We say we believe all these things as a denomination or we pass all these resolutions and it felt like it was just going out into the ether. We can say whatever the heck we like, but unless it gets lived out it doesn't mean anything. The GBCS is trying to live that out - to take what we say we believe and make it real in public policy, in the ministry of our churches, and in our lives.
There's a lot of work to do. One agency can't possibly do everything. This is why it is so important for local churches (and conferences!) to be active in their communities living out their faith and to address issues of injustice where they can. Each one of us can affect change. Each one of us can help God's kingdom be made a little more real in our world. What we say we believe is nothing unless it can be backed up by concrete actions.
I'm grateful for the three days I spent learning. It was a lot like drinking from a firehose, but I discovered I am pretty passionate about food justice issues and how we treat the environment. As it turns out, The Vine's starting some conversations about starting up a Food Co-op because it is so difficult in Haverhill to have access to quality food when the Farmer's Market is not in season, and for many families living on the edge, access to nutritional food is very limited. I am excited about the possibilities of where this conversation will lead, because I believe it will make a tangible difference in the lives of many people - especially as we continue the journey towards health and wholeness.
So thank you, General Board of Church and Society, for all the hard work you do -- not on behalf of the church, but on behalf of those without a voice. Thank you for educating us on the issues, for teaching us how to engage in these conversations from a faith perspective, and for allowing me the opportunity to learn and grow!
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
I'm also doing the Rethink Church Photo-A-Day project (again on Instagram with hashtag #rethinkchurch). Fun times. I enjoy taking pictures - and it's a lot easier since my parents got me an Eye-Fi card for Christmas (yay mom and dad!) It essentially uploads pictures to the internet straight from my camera.
One day, I hope to do more with my photography - especially when it comes to editing pictures and enhancing colors and the like. I feel like I have a decent eye to begin with; I try to get shots that convey a meaning and a message and are fun to look at -- and that tell a story. I am looking forward to going to Guatemala with my camera for just that reason - the opportunity to tell a story with what I capture.
More to come: a debrief from the Global Board of Church and Society Young Clergy Leadership Forum, my fun new hobby (yes, I will survive the zombie apocalypse), and some thoughts about liberation theology. Stay tuned!
Friday, February 01, 2013
I love starting things. Books, computer games, projects - doesn't matter what. But I really stink at finishing. Sometimes, as is the case with some books, I discover half-way through that it isn't worth my time finishing it and so back it goes to the library, the end never to be revealed to me. (I used to feel guilty about quitting books, but there are so many good books out there that I shouldn't waste my time on the ones I don't enjoy). Sometimes, I don't finish projects because I don't want the good times to end. This happens mainly with computer games or TV series (for instance, I haven't seen the last two or three episodes of Firefly. Yes, I do have Netflix).
Usually, though, it's because I love to start new projects. I get bored with the old stuff. I have two-thirds of a sock on a set of needles. I have a lacy pullover I've been working on forever. I have a skirt that just needs some light finish work (think: elastic band). I have two cross-stitch projects that will take me until I'm eighty to finish (no matter how much I work on them). I have a wedding present in process...from five years ago. Oops.*
I should really take pictures of all these works-in-progress for some accountability purposes. I could make it a goal to finish some of these projects by the end of the year. I could have all of you, dear readers, encouraging me on to get them all done.
But that would just be another project to start...and never finish.
*This doesn't include the unfinished projects that I inherited from both deceased grandmothers. Yikes. I'm totally going to be them when I'm older. I pity my poor future grandchildren.
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
This past Sunday, Ben and I announced to Good Shepherd UMC that we'll be leaving to go to full time ministry with The Vine as of July 1, 2013. We are excited to embark on this "new" adventure with God though we are also sad to leave behind working with the congregation in a pastoral capacity. (If you want to read the announcement we e-mailed to our folks, you can find it here.
What excites me the most is that we have this splendid opportunity to go "all in". For me, this is "make it or break it" territory. We have this incredible chance to really see what God can do with us being single-minded and focused.
We've got some funding (for a little while). We've got some passionate people gathered around us. We've been itching for the chance to get to this point for a long time now - not to say that there weren't good reasons for waiting until this point. There have been a number of timing challenges that taught me patience and trust in God since we've landed here in Haverhill. That being said, this change will bring about significant changes in the way of life that Ben and I will be living - changes that, all in all, will be good for us and good for The Vine.
So this bumps up the house hunt (we really don't want to be doing incarnational ministry underneath a bridge). It also adds a few things to our plate about how we transition well and set Good Shepherd up for success with whomever their new pastor will be. We're also undergoing a shift in structure with The Vine as we focus more on creating micro-missional communities that reach out into specific neighborhoods or population groups. There's enough work on our plate for a year that will be crammed into less than six months. Add to the mix the mission trip to Guatemala, and yeah...I'll be lucky if I'm not carted away on a stretcher come the end of June.
It's all good though. That's the wonderful thing.
Remind me of that when in a couple months I start panicking.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
One thing that I have been very bad at that many of my colleagues in ministry do on a regular basis is: have office hours - times when they are available specifically for conversation and counseling and the like. These office hours take place in a variety of settings - some at a church office, some in coffee shops or bookstores, others in parks or street corners (certainly when it is warmer out!).
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
I'm getting ready to go on a mission trip this Spring - the first international mission trip I have ever been on. I'll be going with a group from my denomination to Guatemala to help an organization called Project Salud Y Paz. Salud y Paz operates health and dental clinics that primarily serve the Mayan population in Guatemala - a population that is extremely impoverished.
Grace, a woman connected with The Vine, will be coming too.
There's lots to do to get ready - update my passport, get vaccinations (no fun!), and we have some reading to do. I'm tackling A Theology of Liberation by Gustavo Gutierrez.
So - look forward to me writing some thoughts about the book, and when I'm there, writing about my experience in Guatemala!
If you want to help get me (and Grace!) there - you can do so here.
Wednesday, January 09, 2013
I always end vacation with this vow to do more of "x" or less of "y". This time, I'm trying to resist the urge (with the exception of blogging a bit more frequently...and maybe getting to the gym more often).
I find vacation generally helpful for starting new routines or for strengthening already established practices. I know there are things that I'm pretty terrible at (time management and the inability to say "no" being two of the top ones), but coming back from vacation always seems like a wonderful opportunity to press the reset button - to take back control of my schedule, to plan ahead, to work and live at a sustainable pace of life.
But I also think it's important to be able to show grace to yourself, because a lot of times what creates the angst is the "shoulds" -- I should be eating better, I should be praying more, I should be wasting less time, etc - and all you end up doing is putting pressure on yourself for a goal that you yourself set in the first place.
My hope as I enter back into "reality" is this: that I accept each day as a gift and let go of the need to have some sort of ideal schedule or pace, but rather that I learn to follow the rhythm that each day brings...knowing that within each day there is a time to rest and a time to work and a time to play.
Thursday, January 03, 2013
Every year I get this same itch: to start writing again and put my thoughts out there on a regular basis. Problem is, I never seem to carve out the space to do it unless I'm on vacation, and I never seem to know quite what to write about. Should I focus more on the ins and outs of planting a new community? Should I talk more about the day-to-day living stuff? Should I pick a theme like cooking or knitting and make myself accountable to you all, dear readers, for actually completing the various craft projects I set out to do? Post a picture of something interesting every day? So many choices.
For the longest time, the tag-line of this blog has been "theological musings, random observations, and everything in-between." That pretty much covers most of what my journey has been about in going on to perfection (in the good Wesleyan sense!). Maybe here is the space to help best make sense of the day to day stuff in light of the bigger picture stuff - life and God and creation and all that jazz.
So here's to another creative outlet (like I really need one). I promise I'll be better about regular updates!
Thursday, June 07, 2012
I am here once more at the ordination service of the New England Annual Conference. Eight years ago at a service much like this one, I reconciled myself to God's call into pastoral ministry. It wasn't the first time I had felt such a call. It wouldn't be the last.
I find it hard to believe that it has been eight years since I came alive to the journey that God was drawing me into - a journey that God had been preparing me for even before I was aware of it and a journey that continues to take surprising twists and turns. At the time, I heard it as a call to pastor a local church in ordination. I had no idea that eight years later, I would find myself in Haverhill, planting a new church. I had no idea that I would have a wonderful partner in ministry and in life by my side. I had no idea about the amazing mountain top experiences and the darkest valleys that I would walk through. I had no idea the ways God would call me to sacrifice and to pour myself out for others.
It's been an amazing journey as a licensed local pastor. Lately, though, I've been reflecting on whether or not God is calling me to take that next step. I've wrestled with that thought on and off for the past few months, and inevitably annual conference, and the ordination service in particular, brings up a whole host of thoughts and feelings that beg me to say "yes! You really want to do this!"
There's the half of me that cares very much - cares about the United Methodist Church, cares about the issues facing our denomination, cares about being a part of that church as an ordained elder. And then there's the other half of me that cares about ministering in my context - something that doesn't require any additional credentialing, that cares about the local witness of my faith community, and worries about the implications of submitting myself to a broken system and placing myself as available for itinerant ministry when I feel my call is one to rootedness in the community of Haverhill, MA.
I haven't thought about how to reconcile these two halves yet. I don't know how ordination fits in, if it does at all. But it's in times like these that for some reason I remember that God's got the final say in all of this...and that maybe God's say lies in submitting myself as a servant of Jesus Christ through the United Methodist Church as an ordained elder.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
I was invited to speak at Haverhill's 9/11 Service of Remembrance that was held at noon on the steps of city hall. It was my first city function, so I agonized for a bit as to what I was going to say that would be meaningful and invite people into deeper reflection. I decided that in the end, my experience and thoughts would have to suffice (but isn't that what each of us has to offer anyway? So often we think we have nothing to say, but we all have a story and experiences to share). I decided to end with a poem written by a colleague (you can find it and many other reflections of his at Unfolding Light), because I thought it did an excellent job at sharing the hope and beauty that can arise out of our broken world.
I hope you enjoy my thoughts - and would love to hear your own.
I find it difficult to put into words the breadth and depth of human emotions experienced 10 years ago as we saw the towers fall, and watched the endless news reports stream from radios and televisions, and heard story after story of valiant rescues and human loss. On that day - and in the days to follow - we saw the best of humankind as neighbor reached out hand to neighbor and as people rallied around those who had lost loved ones in the tragedy. But we also saw the worst of humankind - the fear that gave way to hate, the violence and revenge that took hold of hearts, and the clambering need for retaliation.
10 years ago, I was a college freshman in the midst of the second week of classes. I had just arrived at the dining to eat breakfast when I saw people gathered around the television set that was mounted to the ceiling. I didn’t have a chance to ask anyone what was going on before I saw the second tower get hit. It was a surreal moment as we watched - feeling at once how distant and remote we all were from these events, being in central Maine...and yet how close we were as we struggled to make sense and meaning out of what had happened.
That evening, many of us on campus gathered together to share anger, pain, and grief. We gathered with questions - how do we make meaning out of what happened? What does this mean for how we live our lives - what does this mean for how we treat one another - especially those who are different than us? Why did something like this happen to us?
As I sat and listened to the dialogue around me, I experienced our common humanity. I saw all the peoples and cultures and faiths represented in that room, and realized in a very powerful way that we are all brothers and sisters. And as students began to express their emotions - the hurt and the grief and the anger - I learned what it meant to share in a way that did not resort to violence, and to listen to one another across differences. And I learned that all of us have a story to share - no matter who we are...no matter who we come from...no matter what faith we profess.
9/11 shook the foundations of our communities, of our nation, and of our world. I believe in many ways, we all still struggle with what that day meant for us - and we struggle with how the world is dramatically different now than it was 10 years ago. But I also believe that through the doubt, and the fear, and the darkness - through the wars and loss of life and grief - that we always have the hope for peace, the hope for forgiveness and humility, the hope that this broken, fragile world can be made new and whole...and the hope that we have the opportunity to participate in the creation of that wholeness.
I’d like to end by sharing with you a poem entitled “What the Silence Says,” written by Steve Garnaas-Holmes, a colleague of mine at St. Matthew's United Methodist Church in Acton, Massachusetts.
When the towers of what you know collapse,
what do you know?
Beside the great abyss that has swallowed
what you cherished,
where do you stand?
Before the darkness of war
closed the eyes of your heart,
what did you see?
What does the vast, swirling silence say?
That those who cause pain and those who receive it
fall into the same grave.
That lost in the wreckage every time is
the only God worth having.
That we have seen days dark enough
That wisdom is born of vulnerability.
That evil is not a monstrous power
but a sinuous thread,
the will to disregard
in service of our fear.
That there is in all of us a great hole,
under a pall of smoke and sorrow,
in which we meet each other
and know each other deeply.
That not victory, but tenderness
will save the world.
That before the dust falls upon us,
we who ourselves are dust will have chosen
to be people of might or people of grace,
one or the other;
and that it is in choosing that we are human,
and in choosing well that we are blessed.
That we are not worthy of our self-confidence
and yet God, still weeping,
resolutely trusts us
with her most fragile hopes.
That our flesh is sackcloth.
That we who are covered with the ash
of our failure, our fear of ourselves,
are yet beautiful,
that we who are certainly lost
can point the way.
It is my hope that we - still covered in ashes as we remember, can point the way to a brighter future - filled with hope, filled with grace...and filled with peace.
Wednesday, August 03, 2011
I am contemplating, again, returning to blogging. Whether this means a return to this blog in particular, or the creation of a new one, I have not yet decided. There are certain advantages to starting over and fresh starts, but it's also a good discipline to continue what has already been started.
Wednesday, October 06, 2010
My grandmother passed away late last week. It all happened rather suddenly; she had gone into the hospital with vomiting because her stomach wasn't digesting food very well - the next thing we knew she was under sedation and unresponsive after some complications with a few procedures. I was able to drive down to Ohio with my husband and my mom to be with my dad and uncle to say our goodbyes, which was a blessing. But it totally wasn't something I expected to be dealing with...not that death ever is something you really expect, but in some cases the writing is on the wall well before the actual event. With Nammie, it wasn't like that.