Thursday, July 27, 2017

On Zimbabwe, Changing Voices, and Visiting Each Other

I met Virginia a little over 11 years ago as I began my first summer field education place during seminary. Virginia was a kind, Christian woman in her nineties who bore all the gentleness of age and none of its bitterness. If you had met Virginia yourself, you, like I did at first, might have assumed the generations-old log cabin in the mountains of western North Carolina had always been her home. She was a bit of a walking stereotype, one might have guessed.

Well, I guessed at least.

But, life and people being what they are, those first impressions belied her full story.

It is true Virginia’s family had owned and lived in that log cabin—which she now shared with her retired son and his wife—for many generations. It was the place she was born, grew up, and entered adulthood. But soon after her marriage, Virginia left that log cabin. She wouldn’t return to live there with her son and daughter in law until after his retirement, just a few years before I came to spend a summer in that place. To be a pastoral intern. And to come to know her.

The intervening years, encompassing nearly all of her adulthood, Virginia had become a city girl. She had lived in and raised her son up north, mostly, if I recall, in Chicago.

You might forgive me my assumptions if you also knew Virginia’s son, who when I met him wore overalls ALL the time, and sported quite the mountain-man beard. I didn’t know how clean-shaven he’d lived his office-work life before retiring to his ancestral home.

As I came to know Virginia and her family, I was first of all struck by the way our first impressions and assumptions can create barriers between us and who others truly are.

Then, Virginia opened my eyes to even deeper truths and revealed far more ingrained assumptions and stories I’d heard.

One day I set about to really learn about her experience. I expected to hear about the difficulties of living in that mountain area during the Great Depression, and to hear her sense of longing for the good old days. I had heard these stories from others. And perhaps others had so convinced themselves and me of their truth that I almost didn’t even ask.

When asked about the Great Depression, Virginia told me she thought it hardly made a difference. Her family had been so poor, the Great Depression didn’t really matter to them. I thought, “Heck, yeah, I guess if you aren’t really part of the cash-based economy, it probably wouldn’t matter too much.”

Then I asked Virginia if she missed the old days, if she thought of them as the “good old days.”

She didn’t think long and hard, or wistfully, at all.

Instantly, she said no, not at all. She said nearly every single thing about life today was better than when she grew up. Every. Single. Thing.

Except one.

She wished people visited each other more.

Not for purpose. Without agenda. Just to visit. To get to know each other. To spend time together. We are too outcome oriented, she told me.

I think about Virginia often, and the lessons I learned from her.

I thought about her again recently as I travelled to (and then home) from my second trip to Pastors School in Zimbabwe.

My first trip to Zimbabwe, where we connected with our United Methodist clergy colleagues there, was akin to that conversation with Virginia. Assumptions shattered. Distance (or time, age or space) overcome.

Virginia did not hold me at a distance because of her age, experience, or clearly superior wisdom.

My colleagues in Zimbabwe, were, I have now found twice, also willing to help bridge the gap of the experiences, differences and distances which separate us.

I have written before about my first trip, so I will not do so again here. In many ways, that first trip was, and I suspect will always be, the most formative in my own experience with our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe.

I once again, this trip, found myself trying to walk the path of recognizing and valuing the differences between my own experience and my colleagues in Zimbabwe, but also not allowing my perceptions of those differences to seep into assumptions about their own processing of their (and my) experiences.

This trip, I had powerful conversations which were in many ways even more open than I experienced last trip. Conversations about the future of our shared denomination. Sharing about our families and ministries in ways that require a previous foundation. I don’t know that I had any grand revelations this trip. It was good. It was powerful. It was, I am certain, where God called me to be for that week. And I am still not sure what great insights it will shed. Perhaps we are foolish and arrogant to expect all such experiences to offer us that. Like God has to work in fireworks and theatrics.

I have found that often the most important moments and experiences in my life have come and gone without me understanding until much later their importance. And in so doing, I am constantly reminded of the presence of God in and through the mundane. The routine. Or at least the spectacularly unremarkable changes to routine.

One of my seminar professors told us, “It is best not to sing while your voice is still changing.”

In its context, he meant this to say that we would do well to not try to pastor people while we’re still being formed in seminary. I have the utmost respect for those who do serve churches in seminary—seminary wrecked me. It tore me down, and only later built me back up. My voice was changing.

But here’s the thing. My voice is still changing. For the longest time, I thought some day it would stop. I would settle into me. I think that is happening, has happened. But it is also still happening. And I think—I even hope—it always does.

And so it is with Zimbabwe, so it is as I prepare for a pastoral transition, we prepare to move our children from the only home they’ve known, and the only place Chris and I have shared as husband and wife. My voice is still changing.

I give thanks to God that God doesn’t make us wait until our voice is done change. Indeed, I give thanks for the messy, at times off-key, beauty chorus of our changing voices that God draws together from across time and space to be brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, the family and body of Christ.

And don't forget, we should visit each other more.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

On Questioning God's Call

Recently I had the opportunity to talk about my call to ordained ministry with some folks learning about the candidacy process in the UMC. I was asked many good questions, some revealing some common misconceptions or assumptions, all getting to some issues which I think are pretty important.

Though it is not the first question I’m often asked (nor was it in that discussion), I want to speak today to this one:

So you never questioned your call, right? Once you heard it?

Oh, I question it. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

Okay, that is an exaggeration.

But I question it. I did from the beginning. I still do. Somedays I question it off-handedly, some days the ability to question it (and argue with God over it) is the only thing that gives enough elasticity to it to keep at it.

My actual response to that question recently was, “Oh, yes. I do. Often. I did today. I think it’s, maybe arrogance, something, to be so sure you don’t question it. I think we should always question what we think God is saying to us—always look for signs and guidance. In the United Methodist Church we value not only an individual’s sense of call but also the community’s discernment.”

I think our notion here is if God’s call is so strong, others will see it.

Indeed, my own call became clear to me not because my father (grandfather and great-grandfather) was a pastor, but because an older woman at the church my father was then serving in Baltimore (Brooklyn UMC, now closed) said to me “It’s such a shame you’re not going to me a pastor like your father.”

A call to ordained ministry had literally never occurred to me before that.

There’s a film I love called Keeping the Faith¸ staring Edward Norton (as a Catholic priest) and Ben Stiller (as a rabbi). They were childhood friends who grow up to be men of God. There’s a woman they both fall for. It’s like a priest-and-a-rabbi-joke meets a romantic comedy meets a coming of age film meets a religious movie.

But in the midst of all of that, it’s got some really great reflections on calls to ministry.

On one scene, Edward Norton’s character is struggling with the commitments he’s made as a priest. He’s considering leaving the priesthood, finding his vows to be too tight. He’s discerning. He seeks out his senior priest, who had also been one of his seminary professors, and asks his advice—should he just leave the priesthood? It seems in seminary the senior priest had told the seminarians if they could think of doing anything else, they should. Don’t enter priesthood. Go do that instead.

The problem is, as Edward Norton’s character is finding out, this pure, unquestioned confidence withers in the face of real life. At that moment, he can absolutely imagine leaving the priesthood and settling down with a wife and family and doing something else. So if that’s really the bar, his decision is made, right?

Here are the lines from this scene:
Father Brian Kilkenney Finn: I keep thinking about what you said in seminary, that the life of a priest is hard and if you can see yourself being happy doing anything else you should do that.
Father Havel: That was my recruitment pitch, which is not bad when you're starting out because it makes you feel like a marine. The truth is you can never tell yourself there is only one thing you could be. If you are a priest or if you marry a woman it's the same challenge. You cannot make a real commitment unless you accept that it's a choice that you keep making again and again and again.

Every day you make it. The commitment at ordination (or on your wedding day, or any other major commitment) is perhaps best understood as a commitment to keep making the same commitment.

Until it isn’t.

We all know colleagues who have left ministry. Or, perhaps their call has changed shape, and they’ve moved into extension ministry from local church. Or maybe they started in extension ministry and felt called to parish ministry. Not all of these are the same, but they direct us to consider that God’s will for us may change. May evolve.

If the Holy Scriptures are a living word, surely God’s call to each of us is as well.

Discerning call is a hard thing.

And calls are lived out within the imperfect world of the people of God.

Who can be cruel. And unforgiving. And caught up in their own stuff.

Ministry settings can be challenging. Pastors and congregations can suffer from bad fits. Family commitments can make professional obligations feel like impossible choices. Church politics and dynamics can mean pastors don’t get the perfect church for them and churches don’t get the perfect pastor for them.

(What is perfect? But that’s another post all together…)

All of this and a host of other factors can make us re-examine our call.

Sometimes we need to be reminded what our call was to begin with. Sometimes we need to be reminded that it’s ok if our call evolves.

The United Church of Christ has a line they used for advertising that I think is helpful here: Never put a period where God has placed a comma.

Hearing a call to set apart ministry (because we are all called to ministry by virtue of our baptisms) is the beginning (or middle, etc.) of the process. God is still speaking. Our prayerful hope is that through the process to actually enter licensed or ordained ministry, the individual, with the help of many others, distills down to God’s call on their lives. I think that call can be discerned. I also think it’s ok on some days to question it.

But I think on those days, we are called to use the same tools which helped us discern that call in the first place: our experience of God, our reading of Scripture, the guidance of the faith community, and our good sense.

May you hear God’s call on your life. May you be open to its continued development. May God give you the strength you need to live into that call. And should God’s call ever lead you to take a left turn or a different path, may God grant you wisdom, courage and patience to do so.

Oh, and never quit on your worst day.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

On Sorting

The books came to my office in waves.

First my books. Brought in the days before I officially began here.

July 1, 2014 I was officially the pastor. I’d unpacked my books the day before, taking off the shelves the books left from the previous pastor—orphans in their own right. Books waves of previous pastors left her, then she left me.

I boxed them up, put them out for members to look through, and washed my hands of those orphaned books.

The next wave of books came from my father. Well, along a path from him.

Dad, an avid reader whose library may have rivaled ancient Alexandria’s, died suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving his church office frozen in time. And his books sitting organized on his shelves. Ready to be read. To be lended. I never saw the books there, patiently and futily awaiting his return. Instead, months after his death a kind colleague boxed up the best, the personal, and sent them up to me.

Then came my brother Dan’s books.

My husband and I boxed up those ourselves. Scatted, disorganized, and including some Dan had received from Dad.

Dad was like that—I think he loved lending books as much as reading them. Many of my own books were borrow from Dad or given as gifts.

There had been no time to sort Dan’s books, so we had packed them all. Waiting for some later date to be sorted.

That’s how Dan left us.

Waiting for some later date to be sorted and put back into order.

Dan committed suicide. My mom discovered his body on a Sunday (Father’s Day—just shy of a year after Dad’s death). By Tuesday we were packing those boxes. That Saturday we were emptying Dan’s parsonage.

We needed time we didn’t have to sort things out.

Maybe Dan had needed that too.

Thus came the books.

And in boxes they sat.

And sat.

And sat.

Until today.

I cannot tell you how many days “sort books” was on my to do list. Too many.

Today I sorted. I had long had this awful feeling that the task wouldn’t take long.

Even as I flipped through each book in the dozen or so boxes, it still went quickly.

It seems to me that two lives defined by books, ideas, beliefs and commitment should take a lot longer to sort through.

Yesterday we were reminded that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.

Dad and Dan were dust. They were also, in some ways, books. Those books recall their lives. Their studies. Their passions in ministry.

The fact that some boxes I had to double check whose office the books had come from reminds me how tied together they were.

And so sit the boxes destined for sale or trash. The boxes are a bit lighter for their few I have kept. Part of the remains my father and brother left me. Reminders of conversations we had. And conversations we never got to have. I had hoped there might be some great message left tucked in the pages of one of their books. But no. Their messages, their lives, were not there. Maybe glimpses shine forth in the notes in the margins. I think Dad would find great power in the view of our lives seen in our notes in the margins. 

Sometimes we all need some sorting out.

Sometimes we are able, by God’s grace, to do this ourselves.

Sometimes we must rely on others to do this.

You are dust. To dust you shall return.

May God sort us all out in due time.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A Call to (White) Parents On Privilege and Diversity

Over two decades ago, my father came back into ministry after a sabbatical (due to his diagnosis, fallout and treatment for bipolar disorder) to serve as pastor at a church  in southern Baltimore City. The church, Brooklyn UMC, was situated in a neighborhood bearing the same name. We even had our own Brooklyn Bridge—a train bridge painted in the colors of the rainbow.

I had never lived in a city before. And here I was, entering seventh grade, in a new place, our family still reeling from the couple of years our lives fell apart as Dad had spiraled down then fought his way back up (which took many years yet), heading into a culture shock I imagine any expert would predict.

Except it never really came. Not that I remember today. I had completed sixth grade in a small town (Thurmont) in rural Maryland where the KKK still stood on street corners passing out literature from time to time. As I recall, we had one kid who was ethnically mixed in our grade. That was our diversity.

When we arrived in Baltimore, my mother quickly set to getting our schooling straightened out. When the neighborhood middle school curtly refused her request to visit the school before enrolling me, Mom knew something was amiss and dug into school system rules to find a little-known provision allowing students from Brooklyn to enroll instead in the STEM magnet program a few neighbors over, FSK Middle School (a fitting name for a school just blocks away from Fort McHenry).

At FSK, most of my teachers were African-American. Our student body was very ethnically diverse, and we even had some visiting teachers from a Japanese sister school. I can still sing the chorus to Boyz II Men’s song “End of the Road” in Japanese. It was awesome.

One year we did a months-long study on the Harlem Renaissance, crossing all classes. It never occurred to me that African-American history had a month. Heck, we couldn’t have even covered the entire Harlem Renaissance in a month. It was just history. Our nation’s history. So we studied it.

I was blessed to have the opportunity to grow up in a wildly diverse community, attend middle school in yet another diverse community, then attend high school (Western High School) in a setting where I was an ethnic minority in a school filled with some of the strongest, fiercest, most amazing women.

This was my normal. It is what I lived, but it was also what my parents taught me was normal and ordinary, because of what they said and did, and because of what they didn’t. Because of what they never pointed out was a remarkable experience for a middle class white girl. It was a gift of the United Methodist Church’s itineracy system and two parents who in the midst of our own family’s pain had some lessons about life and the world and people they wanted their kids to learn well.

Today our country is reeling from racial, ethnic, geographical and nationalistic tensions that we feel at times might break us. These tensions are not new, and it is hard to tell whether they are stronger or merely now more visible. They are the worst parts of us. They may seem normal, because we are used to them…or used to glancing away from them, but they are not the normal, the truth, of the kingdom of God. There is nothing about our tendencies to diminish others and promote ourselves which is of God.

Not. A. Single. Thing.

We need to craft a new normal.

Parents—we need to cast a vision for our children that confronts that which we want their futures to avoid. A vision rooted in God’s kingdom—this kingdom we pray and read and sing about but which we are also invited to get bound up in. This vision must also include positive emphasis on what we want our children to face. I know it is daunting to know what to do, what to say, but parents, you have so much power to shape your children. Here are some tips I learned from my parents:
  • Help your children be firmly rooted in scripture. I cannot change people. You cannot change people. God can. And God’s word falls clearly and consistently on the side of the opposed and excluded. Help your children be so grounded in scripture that they have no understanding of the distorted theology which calls them to use God’s word to oppress or discriminate against others. If you do this well, your children will one day challenge you on the biases you have yet to fully face. Then you will know you have done well.
  •  Honor others’ traditions. Actively and intentionally. Learn about other faith traditions, other areas of the nation and world, people of different economic classes and ethnic groups. Read books that have illustrations reflecting all these diversities. One of our girls’ favorite books is about Ramadan. I’ve learned a lot from it too. I love that it not only shows children and adults talking briefly about what Ramadan is, but it also shows an ethnically diverse cast of characters, including some women wearing the hijab. To do this well, you will probably need to raise your game. Learn some yourself. That’s ok. You can probably use to raise your game. We all can. By the way—no, you’re not going to make your kid Muslim by reading a book about Muslims…if that’s how it worked, all kids would become a farmer like Old McDonald. If doing stuff like this makes you uncomfortable, that’s totally fine. Do it anyway. That means you’ve found one of your own growing edges.
  • Immerse your children in diversity. Take advantage of the diversity around you. Make an effort to involve your children in activities and take them to events where they will not only see but also interact with people who are different than them. Let them see you in friendships, working with, worshipping with and being with, people who are different than you. Related to the above, make an effort to surround your children at home as well with books, toys, tv shows, movies, etc. which reflect diversity.
  • Teach your children history. Your children hopefully are already learning this at school—whether they’re lucky enough to be at a school which studies the Harlem Renaissance, or as our Anna did this year as a kindergartener (at a wildly non-ethnically diverse school—yes, in rural MD) come home and tell her father and I all about Ruby Bridges and ask us when Ruby integrated school in relationship to the timeline of Dr. King’s public work. Encourage curiosity and make an effort to build learning about a diverse history into vacations, museum trips, days out, etc.
  • Be willing to confess your own mistakes, biases and faults to your children. Help them thus to learn that we all are responsible for our beliefs and actions and that when we make mistakes (which we will) there is a path to healing and wholeness and that path requires honesty and humility. Teach them that being the most important or right person in the room is not the goal. Being the most gracious, love-filled, image-of-Christ person they can be is.

Parenting is difficult. And at any given moment we’re trying to keep a dozen things in mind while also keeping our own sanity. But our world challenges our own and our children’s efforts to care for the other. The world tells us to fight for our own, hold our ground, and fight to be in control. It’s not going to get easier. As adults we need to find ways to speak up and speak out. Our example speaking up and out is indeed part of the lessons we teach our children.

As parents, we also have immense power to shape the future though our children. We also have the ability to shape our children’s futures.

Parents of white kids (I’m one, remember), keep this in mind: our nation and world are getting more diverse. If valuing all people and make sure your children grow up without hate, prejudice or anger are not a moral imperative for you, consider the practical reality that your children will live as adults in a world which is far more connected and diverse than you have experienced, and even than you can probably imagine. If you teach your children to be scared of foreigners, angry at minorities, bitter about cultural changes, and ignorant of the experiences and histories of others, you are dooming them to futures of their own bitterness, isolation and exclusion.

It is a privilege to be able to decide whether you will teach your children to value diversity or not. If you’re white and you can’t wrap your head around what your privilege looks like, you may find (some of) it here. That your child could go through their entire childhood without having to take a serious look at the history and example of people who are different, or without valuing people who have been historically oppressed—that is possible. Hopefully much less possible now in a world where educators may understand better than you about the world your children will inherit, but probably possible.

So use your privilege wisely. Prepare your children well for their futures. And you know—do what Jesus calls us each to do, which is love and value each other, reach out to the stranger, be willing to be broken in places our hearts are hardened. Allow God’s grace to change and reshape you. Grow into the image of Christ. And help your children be set on the path to do the same.

If you would like resources to help support you, or if you'd like to learn more about specific things Chris and I have and do try (and we are not perfect either) please let me know. If you're still not convinced you need to find ways to confront your bias and teach your children to appreciate and value all, check out testimonies of those whose lives have been broken by hate, including Frank Meeink's Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

On Joseph and Trying to Catch Up

I love Mary. Mother of Jesus, Mary.


My youngest daughter’s name is Mary.

Mary is awesome (well, both of them).

But often, hers is not the story in the birth accounts of Jesus with which I most connect.


Joseph is where it’s at.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission”?

I hate the line. Despite the fact that’s how I got to choose paint colors for my room when I was in high school and we lived in a parsonage. So there’s that.

But if you’ve ever been the one asked for forgiveness when someone could have asked permission, you know how much it stinks to be on that end of things.

I often think about that when I read the birth narratives.

The angel comes to Mary with this incredible and daring message. I don’t want to diminish at all her response. It is powerful. And faithful. And a great example for all of us.

But then there’s Joseph.

By the time God sends an angel to Joseph the entire store is set in motion. Mary’s gotten her angel. Mary is pregnant. She has told Joseph. Joseph, in a move of great graciousness, has decided to break his engagement with Mary quietly. Scripture tells us he is a righteous man. So I am sure he knew that she was due quite severe treatment for getting pregnant out of wedlock—and not by her fiancĂ©. But Joseph also knew something about righteousness—that it is about being in line with God. And sometimes being in line with God means faithfulness to something greater than religious laws.

God is, after all, bigger than even the most religious folks’ attempt to codify God.

Joseph decides to break the engagement quietly because even if Mary has told him the angel’s message, who would believe her?! Joseph is not a fool.

THEN. Only then, does God send an angel to Joseph.

The ship has sailed.

The train has left the station.

Joseph is kind of asked for forgiveness rather than permission.

Mary gets to utter those powerful and faithful words, “Let it be with me as you have said.”

Joseph is just trying to catch up.

We don’t know very much about Joseph but I think we figure, from what little scripture says as well as our notions about fathers, that he was a good man and a good father. Think “Leave It to Beaver” or Danny Tanner or Jason Seaver kind of good father.

Like those fictional fathers, Joseph is often just a one dimensional person to us.

You just know there is so much more though.

Think of it: Here’s this young man who is about to marry a girl from the village. Mary has to have been a pretty awesome woman—after all, God choose her to bear Jesus. This is an exciting time for Joseph, I imagine.

Then the bottom drops out.

I can only imagine the deep disappointment and devastation Joseph must have been feeling. The kind that makes most people want to make others hurt as much as they do. Maybe Joseph felt that way. Maybe he didn’t. He at least didn’t act out of it.

I think often the testimony of our character isn’t so much how we feel, but how we act out of those feelings.

And there’s Joseph, just trying to catch up.

I feel more like that most of the time than I do feel like Mary.

Just trying to keep up with what life has brought. Trying to catch up with what God is doing.

Sometimes not doing particularly well at either.

Occasionally I’ve had times where I’ve responded to God with those words, “Let it be.” About to take on some new task of season, I look ahead with hope and excitement. Ready. 

But most of the time, like Joseph, I take a deep breath and try to get on with it. Figure out what being faithful and righteous means in the face of what is already unfolding.

So this year, like most, I will relish in the words of the Gospels about Mary and her faithful response. But I will pay particular attention to Joseph’s part. Joseph’s righteousness and faithfulness and willingness to let it be. Even if he, like me, was mostly just trying to catch up with what God was doing.

And you know what? That’s enough. Just trying to catch up with God is enough. Enough for God to use you to do incredible things. Enough to bring blessing into your life and to help you share God’s blessings with others.

Thanks be to God.

Friday, December 9, 2016

On Taking Good Advice

I decided to tackle a sewing project this fall: sewing two tree skirts—one for our girls’ small artificial tree and one for our main family tree.

This is a project I’ve had in mind for a while. Most years I use fabric under our tree. Because—have you seen the price of tree skirts? Sheesh!

I’m also really picky.

I’m not a terribly skilled quilter or seamstress though, so it took a while to find the right pattern.

It also took a bit to get back to it. My brother Dan had borrowed my sewing machine and cutting mat a couple months before he died. I rescued the sewing machine from his house, but I don’t remember what came of the mat. It took a couple years of intermittent interest on my part just to get the machine—a very basic one—working reliably again.

But…I found a pattern I thought I could manage. Bought the fabric. Got a new mat. And got to it.

Cutting and piecing it was the easy part.

Next I had to actually assemble the layers and quilt it.

I stalled there a few days.

But then…perfect timing…Debbie, who works in our bishop’s office and more importantly, owns and runs a quilting store, was coming out to camp with a group.

As you can imagine, I waited for my chance and then asked for a couple of minutes of her time and showed her the pieced top for the girls’ tree skirt.

Debbie read the project and me pretty quickly. I hardly said much before Debbie began explaining how to sequence the layers of fabric and batting. She asked what my machine could do, then gave simple and clear suggestions for how to quilt it. Gave a few pro tips from her own project experience. This was expert level stuff, folks.

Now, you’d think I’d have the good sense to do just what she said.

I asked a couple questions partly due to the fact that the pattern instructions were different for finishing the quilt—and required me to use quilt binding on a hexagon.

How hard could that be?

Pretty darn hard, as it turns out. Which is why Debbie had suggested a different way of finishing the skirts.

And you know what?

I didn’t listen.

I thought, “Well, yeah, but I’m gonna follow the instructions.” (Which is ironic because part of my sewing issues is my frustration following instructions exactly.)

Fortunately I attempted finishing the girls’ tree skirt first.

Which is really good.

Because I mangled it.

I’ve used binding on maybe 4 projects before.

I should never have attempted to do it on the skirt.

Debbie was right.

I managed to finish the girls’ tree skirt. But please, if you’re ever at my house, don’t look at the bottom of it. Please. You will think less of me. ;-)

A couple days later I had a chance to work on the main tree skirt. And do exactly what Debbie told me. Exactly.

And you know what?

Yep. You guessed it.

She was totally right.

I’ve been really struck by this lesson since. Not so much about the binding (though really, I hate quilt binding…I’d forgotten how much I hate it) but the lesson about how we often don’t take the advice we really should. Even when we’re the ones who ask someone for their advice—someone we know who really does know what they’re talking about—we too easily think we still know better. Or we can’t do what is advised.

I read once that only something like 1 in 8 people who are at risk for (or already have) heart issues will follow their doctor’s advice about eating healthier, exercising more, and making other important life changes.

Ain’t that the truth.

I mean, think of it: when was the last time you heard advice from someone (who actually know what they were talking about—not random people who just like to tell you what to do) but didn’t take it? Why was that?

Earlier in ministry, I was talking with more experienced clergy colleagues about some difficult conversations and tense situations—ones which were very exhausting and draining for me but which my attempts to remain present in weren’t changing. One asked me, “Why do you keep allowing yourself to have to keep listening to the same stuff over and over? It doesn’t sound like it’s helping. Just move on.”

It hadn’t occurred to me, I must admit, to just leave it be. And it took time to really take that advice. Still does sometimes. But they were right. I just needed to take their advice.

I am confident there is something in your life you have (or should) sought the advice and guidance of those who have been through a similar situation, someone trained by experience and opportunity to give you the direction you need.


Then do it.

Just do it.

Oh, and don’t try to using binding on a hexagon. Just don’t.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Brokenness, Addiction, and Searching for Light and Hope

Tis the season of joy and celebration, right?

And brokenness.

Yep. This is when we must muster our best tools to ignore the pain around us. Because for all the peace and happiness, this Christmas season is also one that sheds light…light on the places in our lives and relationships we’ve spent the rest of the year politely tucking away.

Those family members and friends we’ve gently (or not so gently) ignored? Yep. Right in our faces now. Trying to resist the urge to buy them passive aggressive gifts. Or declare our righteous indignation at whatever despicable view or practice they’ve somehow harmed us or the world with this year.

Joy and celebration.


What’s more, this is the season that same brokenness pours out onto our streets.

In the West Virginia panhandle, as in many other areas…too many other areas…you can’t honestly speak about our brokenness without naming the epidemic of opioid addiction tearing about lives, families and communities.

It is painful. And difficult.

We want it to stop, but we seem as powerless to stop it as the addicts themselves. We wrestle with the intersection of the responsibility we each have over our lives and decisions versus the powerlessness addicts face in their dependency. We criminalize addictions to some drugs while this time of year celebrating the actual biggest and most debilitating addiction in our communities and lives: alcohol. We’re a hot mess. But we’re darn well convinced our mess is someone else’s problem.

Yep, ironically, even as we protest other people’s lack of taking ownership of their own lives, we cast aside our own responsibility to ourselves and each other.

Yesterday I attended the monthly Berkeley County Ministerial Association meeting, where we heard a presentation from Kevin Knowles, Berkeley County’s Community Recovery Services Coordinator. He shared a host of information and statistics about addiction in our community.

Summary: drug addiction is a problem that is growing. And the costs are staggering: in addition to the crimes associated with drug use, in just the most extreme cases—overdoses—the cost to the taxpayers is around $1200 per emergency call. Over the past year in Berkeley County, that’s inching up towards half a million dollars.

We have the ability through tools like NARCAN, to bring addicts back from the brink of death. This is, however, an ability which challenges us. Because when you’re not an addict, you would think one such instance would scare you sober. But addiction defies logic. And good sense.

Addiction is a disease. It has consequences across the board—for bodies, relationships, communities, you name it. All addiction.

Did I mention alcohol?

During Kevin’s presentation, he shared a video of first person account which was from what I’m assuming was a sermon at The Living Room (a church in Martinsburg). The woman described her progression into addiction (and the falling apart of her life), starting with prescription pain pills. She explained that part of her sobriety was understanding that certain emotions (sadness, stress, etc.) are normal parts of life.

So where do we begin?

I’ve only scratched the surface of topics related to the drug epidemic. Clearly, there are crises in our lives and communities which are precursors to drug addiction.

How do we face the disappointments and brokenness of life?

How do we balance immediate relief vs. long term health?

When are medications the best treatment?

When are lifestyle changes needed?

Several years ago I read a powerful book, Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead. It’s a powerful read for so many reasons. One small piece that really jumped out at me though was when he talks about how he finally got on a solid path to sobriety (the connection between his hate-filled past and his addictions is itself eye-opening). He shares that living in a sober house where he was required to take care of basic things, like making his bed each day, gave him the necessary structure (and eventually self-confidence) to begin to make even bigger and lasting changes.

I finished that book reminded that sometimes the most important steps are the smallest ones.

I am reminded of a Steven Curtis Chapman song I came across recently, Take Another Step.

If you are currently struggling in the face of pain and brokenness, overwhelmed by all that you cannot control, please know you are not alone. There is help. And no choice need be your last one. Take one step. One thing you can do to care for yourself well. Do that one thing now. Just that one thing. Talk to someone. Schedule that appointment with your doctor. Drink a glass of water. Take a nap. Eat a healthy, balanced meal. Take a walk. Take another step.

Recently, I was part of a discussion with some of our members at Arden about finding ways to help make a real impact on our community—and doing so in a way that works, not just doing stuff. I’m excited to see where these discussions lead.

I am going to be sharing more with you about what I’ve learned and am learning about our community, and how we can make meaningful and effective change happen. How we can be part of bringing healing and wholeness.

Kingdom work.

I invite you to do the same. To start, I invite you add discernment (for yourself and our congregation) to your prayers. Next, listen. Read. Learn as much as you can about how addiction unfolds in a person’s life. And what works to prevent or short-circuit it. If you have personal experiences, share with me or others who are trying to find solutions.

May the God of light lead us along a path where we might see clearly the way to move into health ourselves, and how to lead others into the same.

If you or someone you know is in need of support for mental health and addiction issues in West Virginia, call or text 1-844-HELP4WV (1-844-435-7498) or visit

If you are in Maryland, visit or call 211.