A small town girl with big ideas.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Seeing One Another

I had lunch this week with a dear friend of mine named Joyce.  She is 81 years young, I've known her for at least 15 years. Joyce was one of the first people to welcome my family to Bedford Presbyterian.  She served as a youth advisor when I was a teenager.  She has shared her faith and inspired many people of all ages.  Joyce is more than a friend, she is an important part of my family.  She has been present for many milestones in my life including my graduation from college, my wedding, my installation at Appomattox, the beginning of my time at Covenant, and likely my child's first birthday.  We reminisced a little bit during our lunch together.  Joyce shared how much it meant to her to be an advisor with us after her first husband passed away.  She recalled how we  surprised her with other members of the church to celebrate her first birthday after he died.  Funny, I don't remember that at all, but I am so thankful that it was meaningful to her.  Joyce was more than just another available adult to be present with our church's youth.  She built relationships with us.  She loved us. She loves us still.  

Fast forward to today. I was sent a text message by another dear friend, this one named Chris, he is in his early 20s.  I had the privilege of serving as an advisor while he was in youth group about 5 years ago.  Chris is currently away at a conference where he is learning about youth ministry.   He wanted to let me know how much the love I have shown him in his life has shaped him.  WOW! What a special moment to remind me of why I do what I do, why I love the vocation God called me to live into.  People like Joyce taught me what it means to be present with another person.  People like Joyce taught me to build relationships with people.  I love all the youth and young adults I have worked with, I am proud of each and every one of them. They are doing amazing things with their lives.  I loved them when I was with them.  I love them still.  

Building relationships.  Seeing one another as human beings--I think perhaps this is what our world is missing.  We have forgotten that we are people, the human race.  I don't really care if you believe we were created in the image of God and called good or not.  I believe it, but that doesn't mean you have to believe it to see the value in treating others with respect and compassion.  When did we stop doing this?  Probably at the beginning of time, but it seems to me that with each passing year it is getting worse.  The world of science and technology is advancing at a rate which makes my head spin, but as people who exist (I believe) to be in relationship with one another, we are digressing.  

I know that in our online culture hashtags are an important way to link us together.  They help to build connections of threads and discussions that are happening all over the world.  They are snip-its meant to help us rally together behind a particular thought or idea.  I am sure most of us have seen #BlackLivesMatter.  Perhaps you have also seen #PoliceLivesMatter.  Yes, yes they do.  These are valid words and I agree with them wholeheartedly.  Both of them.  But you know what I would like to see: #AllLivesMatter.  Lives Matter.  Black lives, white lives, depressed lives, homeless lives, military lives, police lives, pastor lives, gang lives, youth lives, poor lives, rich lives, immigrant lives, Christian lives, Buddhist lives, Muslim lives, Atheist lives, gay lives, divorced lives, married lives, young lives, old lives, handicapped lives, lost lives, jobless lives, anorexic lives, bullied lives, victimized lives, transgender lives, foreign lives, democrat lives, republican lives, and every single life in between!   All. Lives. Matter. 

When will we drop our arms and stop casting stones?  When will we stop seeing red long enough to recognize that there is a person standing in front of us instead of an issue?  When will we quiet our speech long enough to hear the other person speaking?  When will we come to terms with the fact that building relationships on compassion, respect, and love is the only thing that will prevent us from destroying ourselves and each other?

I thank God for grace.  I thank God for people like Joyce and Chris with whom I was able to build relationships, even though we come from different places in our lives.  I hope I can continue to mirror relationship building in my interactions with all people, because everyone's lives are worthy of recognition, validation, and care.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

On Leaving The World A Better Place For My Kid

I've been thinking a lot about a young girl in our area this week, her name is Sunnie, she is 8 years old.  Sunnie has made the local news because a private Christian school has informed her grandparents who care for her that they do not wish her to enroll in the school for the fall.  The letter that I have seen references Sunnie's appearance and behavior as being a source of difficulty in the school as some of her peers don't know whether she is a boy or a girl.  The implications that have come from this are that Sunnie's short hair cut, desire to wear jeans and t-shirts, all while playing outside with no fear of getting dirty; have lead some people to believe that she is confused about her own gender identity.  

If you would like to hear the initial story, see the letter, or explore more about the school's policies you can look here.  




 It seems to me that due to these disruptions and distractions, the school officials feel that Sunnie would thrive in a different educational setting.  I would imagine that if such comments were being made to Sunnie at school it was hurtful to her.  I would hope that if students were picking on her the teachers and staff would not have tolerated such behavior. The letter reads in such a way that it appears school leaders were trying to show some mode of compassion, stating love for her.  I was not present so it is really a waste of time to speculate. While I may not agree with this particular choice made by the school, I have also heard good things about the institution, such as the willingness to take in troubled students with various degrees of personal and social struggles when other schools have turned them away.  There are two sides to every coin. Is this school behaving in a "Christian" way?  According to the school's bylaws and stated theology they are.  And that is what really gets us (me) as Christians into a tizzy, because the Bible is being interpreted by many people in many different ways. We will not always agree. Sorry, that is the truth.  So we all have an agenda, right?  Let's be honest about that. 

 We also don't know anything about Sunnie's family or home life except that she is being raised by her grandparents, who obviously value her education as she was attending a private school (please note this does not mean sending her to public school implies they don't value her education, I am an advocate for GOOD public education).  Again, to speculate all of the details behind this one story that is making waves across the state and likely nationally, would be a waste of time. 

Something that sticks out to me is that Sunnie was not the least bit protected from the judgmental, preconceived notions about what our society and culture deems as "acceptable behavior and appearance" by being placed in a private Christian school.  It sounds to me as though she was likely being treated by her peers in the same manner as she would have been in a public school if she were seen as "different" from the other kids.  What makes it worse for us as outsiders looking in is that this is supposed to be a "Christian" school.  But, as I said above, professing to be a Christian takes on varying degrees of nuance.

The real issue in my mind is that our society has spiraled down into this dark pit where individual expression and identity is acceptable...but only if it looks like XYZ. There are no exemptions from this reality, religious or otherwise.  The stereotypes that are created for men and women as adults (which are also abhorrent to me) have trickled down.... no, fallen as a torrential downpour onto our children who are helpless to fully understand it or stop it!  I'm sorry adults but where do you think kids get these ideas from? Hello, it is learned! Children see and hear us being judgmental of people who are homeless or living in poverty.   Children see and hear us disrespecting one another because of our political views or our religious beliefs.  Children see and hear us drawing lines in the sand because of the stereotypes of race, gender, and sexual orientation.   Even if TCA felt in their hearts they were doing the most Christian and compassionate thing for Sunnie; if you think that letter did not send a clear message of disapproval to her, her peers, and her friends, you are mistaken.  In that decision Sunnie's belief in herself has been tested, because now she has to wonder why people think she is different and why does it matter?  She is 8 years old, all she should worry about is what is in her lunchbox and what games she is going to play with her friends after school. 

And we could blame the media and entertainment industry for so many things.  We put so much stock into what we see being portrayed in television and film.  We could blame the media for sensationalizing stories like Sunnie's without giving us all of the facts.  We could blame them for the "war on Christianity" because so often we are depicted as judgmental, prejudiced, uneducated hypocrites.  But, these industries are made up of people, adults who are no better or worse than any other people in our broken humanity.We are all at one point or another guilty of being judgmental, prejudiced, uneducated hypocrites (whether we are Christian or not).  Again, we are all adults who are supposed to be raising the next generation.  And we keep turning on the television! We keep turning on the news and becoming either incensed at the injustices we see all over the world (sometimes seeing ourselves as the victims) or we become desensitized to the point that we think all of this is normal and we have no part to play.  Like Pontius Pilate we often wash our hands of it because that is easier than accepting our own responsibility.  

If you don't like the way the world is portraying your faith, do something about it! If you don't like the way that people are treating others, do something about it!  Start with yourself: what prejudices and biases do you have?  In what ways can you do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God?  I take that challenge from Micah very seriously.  If every person believed in themselves enough change the world, we could do it one encounter at a time.  

I thank God every day that I grew up being nurtured and loved by people who taught me that I could be anyone and do anything my heart desired.  It was okay when I went through a phase where I didn't want frills and lace on my dresses.  It was okay that I didn't carry a purse until college.  It was okay when I decided to enter into a vocation that is viewed as predominantly male.  It is okay that I don't wear make-up, dye my hair, or paint my nails before I go to the grocery store.

I have a cousin who is in middle school.  She is tall and beautiful.  I remember when she was a little girl she liked to play outside and catch bugs and frogs.  She plays volleyball and she is a Girl Scout. Katniss Everdeen is a literary hero for her.  She wears multiple bracelets on her arms and seems to be most comfortable in jeans and t-shirts.  She is sweet and kind.  I don't think my family ever misses an opportunity to tell her how we love her, how proud we are of her.  At least I hope we don't!  God forbid anyone ever tell that girl in my presence that she isn't perfect the way she is, that she isn't loved by God. 

This summer we are going to have a son.  It makes me sad that the world described above is the world he will be born into.  But what kind of mother, what kind of parents would Michael and I be if we didn't try our best to leave the world in better shape than we found it?  I want my boy and all people, young and old to know this: 

You are created in the image of God: a God who is merciful, loving and just.  God knew you before you were born and God loves you.  Take this knowledge to heart and love yourself, believe in becoming the very best person that you can be.  We live in a broken world, we are broken people.  We do and say things that are harmful to others.  But Jesus teaches us to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Loving your neighbor means accepting them, including their flaws because we all have them. Loving your neighbor means showing respect, learning to agree to disagree.   God wasn't satisfied to leave us in our brokenness, that is why God sent Christ to us, to bring us grace, to shower us with love.  So, God calls us into community, to work together to bring God's kingdom into the here and now.  It is because of that call that we should work for justice and equality.  It is because of that call that we strive to make the world a safe space for anyone and everyone. 

I find hope and it gives me rest
I find hope in a beating chest
I find hope in what eyes don't see
I find hope in your hate for me
Have no fear when the waters rise
We can conquer this great divide


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pastoral Care: Are You Caring For Your Pastor?

Let me preface this little post by first saying that my situation may be somewhat unique.  I don't know as this is my first call, but after three years I recognize that in a lot of ways I have it very easy.  I am so blessed in my ministry.  I have a very supportive family who understand the demands of my ministry.  Both of my parents are elders in the Presbyterian church and my father-in-law is a Methodist minister who has been an excellent mentor for me.  My husband has moved with little complaint from the role of PK (preacher's kid) to PS (preacher's spouse). I thank God each day that I married someone who already knew what they were getting into.  My congregation is very respectful of my personal time.  I rarely get calls on my day off and my vacation days have always been approved.  The only discussion that has ever been had about my vacation time centered around my request for them due to Hanson concerts, and even then it was all in good fun.  So you see, what I am about to say comes from a place of concern for my friends in ministry more that for myself. 

Here is the issue: I think there are some ministers who are made to feel guilty about the vacation time they are permitted in their terms of call.  I believe there are active and otherwise supportive church members out there who believe that pastors get entirely too much paid vacation and do not see the need for this self-care.  I also find, which absolutely blows my mind, that some people really do think that the pastor only works for a few hours on Sunday!  Finally, there are some ministers out there who take on the role of suffering servant so fully that they never make time for themselves. They are always finding work that needs to be done on their day of Sabbath rest. They never take all of their vacation time or continuing education because for some reason they have been made to feel that the church cannot survive without them! 

So the question: Are you, as a church member, caring for your pastor?  Are you encouraging them to practice self care?  If you are wondering why this is even an issue let us recall the greatest commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself.  Are pastors exempt from this?  I don't think so.  In order for us, as your minister to adequately care for you; to hold your hand when you are in pain, to teach you about the scriptures, to preach each Sunday, to attend ball games and pot lucks and conferences with your children, we need rest! We need to take time to refuel-- body, mind, and spirit. 

Because the truth is that being "on" 24/7 is exhausting.  We are in fact on call for you all the time. Yes, this is the life we have chosen (or was chosen for us, thanks God) and we typically embrace it.  But, please recognize the fact that there are not many jobs where one can be called to come home from vacation with their families to be of support to someone else.  We spend more time being seen in the community as pastor than we are ever seen as spouse, citizen, friend.  There are occasions when we find ourselves at church more evenings in the week than we do at home.  This is why we need those precious days off and why we need to be made to take them!  You can make it easier for your pastor to take off a Friday or Saturday by allowing them the space to do so.  And pastor friends, set a day and stick to it!  If for some reason you do not get to take your regular day off, take that time somewhere else during the week.  You are hurting yourself and your ministry if you don't.  

I have heard of congregations balking at the minimum requirements of vacation time for pastors.  In my terms of call I get four weeks of vacation and two weeks of continuing education.  This also includes 6 Sundays.  In my three years here I believe this will be the first year that I have actually taken all of this time.  It is in fact hard to get away.  Of course, if one has the mentality that we only work on Sundays, I can see how it would be hard to see the need for four weeks of vacation.  A word to the wise: members please don't scoff at us when we request two weeks of vacation to go and visit our family who we haven't seen in two years because they live half way across the country!  And please don't make us feel guilty for taking a Sunday off because our best friend is getting married and we actually don't have to officiate! In my own experience, when my weeks are crammed with meetings and writing sermons and lesson plans, the last thing I want to do on my day off is go anywhere to socialize with my friends or even talk on the phone, I just want to hibernate!  So, I need those intentional weeks of vacation to be with the people that I love, who know me as more than their minister.  And I also need time to do all of the things I don't have time for otherwise, like cleaning out closets and washing the car.   Our vacations give us an opportunity to be reminded of why we do what we do. Sometimes we lose ourselves in the work and lose sight of the vocation.  We cannot take care of you properly if we are overwhelmed by the minutiae of ministry. 

And pastor friends, hear me now: the time is in your terms of call so take it!  There is  no need to sacrifice yourself on the altar of  "too much to do" when it will likely still be there when you return!  For the average member, it might be difficult to understand the amount of stress that enters our lives during the seasons of Advent and Lent so 1) educate them 2) take time off when it is over.  I recognize that for associate ministers and folks in larger churches this will be difficult because everyone wants vacation time, but make sure that somehow around these liturgical seasons you get the rest you need.  

I think that something we all struggle with is how to be healthy. For many of us our days are spent mostly sitting behind a desk. While our brains are often well stretched, our bodies are not.  We all have to find ways to exercise that are the most helpful to us.  I have some #runrevrun friends but I am more of a #strollrevstroll type of person.  Go for walks during the day, join a gym, do some yoga in the morning, whatever it takes!  Conversely, some of us run around like chickens with our heads cut off all day long.  We go from one thing to another at church and then we go home to chase our kids around for hours before bed.  Relaxation and sleep are high on my priority list (sometimes too high :) ). And eating, goodness gracious how many days a week do we eat breakfast or lunch in the car driving from one visit to the next?  How often do we eat take out because it is so much easier and we are too tired to cook a healthy meal?  All I am saying is figure out a balance and for every cup of coffee  you guzzle, drink some water too.  Members, you can help us with this by inviting us out to lunch where there is a healthy selection of food, or bringing vegetables to pot luck dinners.  

So, to our members, who we care about, who we truly love to serve: how can you help us care for ourselves? Here are just a few ideas that I recommend.
1) Respect your pastor's day off.  If you don't know when it is, ask him or her.  Think about why you are calling, is it an emergency or something that can wait until Monday? 
2) Let us know that you recognize how hard we are working and encourage us to take vacation. Do you have a lake house, we'd love to stay there for a few days!  Do you have some frequent flyer miles going to waste, we can help!  Get tired of hearing our voices, tell us about an idea for guest ministers!  We love that. 
3) Consider paying for your pastor's gym membership or for exercise classes and give us the time to take advantage of them.  Some of us don't do these things because we feel like we don't have the time to engage.  Or we feel we shouldn't splurge on the extra cost.  
4)Remember that we are people too.  We like to read novels, watch sports, and get hooked on television shows just as much as the next person.  It wouldn't hurt to engage us in conversation about these things, or our other hobbies.  We appreciate being able to share these aspects of our lives from time to time, I think we need to do so.  
5) The golden rule goes a long way.  How do you want me to care for you?  Do you want me, as your pastor, to recognize that you won't be at the committee meeting because you are going out of town? Do you like sharing both your joys and your concerns with your pastor?  Great! Reciprocate! 

I've rambled on long enough and as usual, I have quite the list of things to do.  I will likely eat a can of soup while writing my sermon and talk myself out of exercising when I go home.  Let's make a pact, help me take care of me and I will help you take care of you.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Happy Birthday, Aimee

At the age of fourteen, I met God.  I had always known about God since I had been going to church off and on since I was a little girl.  My grandparents and my parents made sure that I had a foundation for faith by attending Sunday School, VBS, and worship.  But, when I was fourteen, I think I first recognized that God was an active part of my life.  God saw fit to place our little family in a wonderful church, Bedford Presbyterian where I became a part of a bigger family who has loved and supported me ever since.  At the center of that very engaging congregation at the time were two wonderful pastors, Joseph Gaston and Bill Buchanan, and their amazing families who I love as though we are blood related.  And at the core of that sweet Buchanan family, which was still growing at the time I met them, was Aimee.  I think one of my earliest memories of Aimee is her standing outside the door of the nursery at BPC with little Elli peeking at me from behind Aimee's legs. 

I have been blessed in my life to have incredible women to look up to, especially in my family. Mother, grandmothers, aunts, cousins, mother-in-law, sister--in-law, women who each deserve a blog post of their own!

And then there is Aimee.  When I was younger I thought that my relationship with Aimee was so amazing because she loved me when she didn't have to.  Now, I know that she loved me and everyone she encountered,  because she did have to.  At the core of her very being I think was her living the gospel message to love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Aimee loved me because I was a child of God and her love for me was indicative of God's love.

Aimee and Bill taught me a very important lesson about love, that part about loving yourself.  As a teenager, your parents tell you they love you, want what is best for you, and they are proud of you but you just think, "you are my parents you are supposed to say that."  I think it is important for that message to come from someone else who is just as invested in you.  Aimee and Bill encouraged me to embrace the person who was blooming inside of me.  Even when I was still trying to figure that out, they encouraged me to love the individual who was and is Loren: Child of God.  So they fostered ME, the poetic me, the silly me, the Hanson fan me... all of it.  They inspired me to dream dreams and ask questions and to see God at work in the world. Of all the people our children idolize today, I pray above all else they would encounter an Aimee in their lives!

So my first order of business on this day, Aimee's birthday, was to take some time to let all of the teens and college students in my congregation know that they are amazing.  That I recognize their gifts, that I acknowledge their struggles, that they inspire me!  They are scattered all over the place but I just wanted them to know that they have a home to come back to in the church.  That there are many people who love them and are proud of them, including myself.  What is seemingly a small effort actually can have big impact.  I know that it did for me.  

This afternoon I went and volunteered for a few hours at Gleaning For The World.  GFTW was noted in Forbes Magazine as being America's most efficient charity.  You wouldn't expect that from a place located in rural VA, but there it is.  GFTW is usually one of the first organizations on site for any major disaster in the United States, mostly because they are so very efficient.  GFTW collects items from companies that are overstocked and then sends those goods to places both locally and globally that need them.  For example, they may send out band-aids or medical supplies for first aid kits.  They collect blankets and toys for children.  Gleaning is an organization that works locally, nationally, and globally.  Today when I arrived at the warehouse there were at least three workers there and also three college students from Liberty University's volleyball team.  We sorted through many boxes of juice, water, food items, diapers and even pet food, dividing them out not only by expiration date but also type of item (i.e. food that needs some sort of preparation or other ingredients and food that does not).  Working at GFTW is not an experience where you can see immediate results, such as building a house or working at a soup kitchen, but it is just as important.  It is all of those volunteer hours that makes it possible for GFTW to send trucks immediately to where they are needed most.  In this way, I was able to make a small ripple, both locally and globally.  

On my grocery trip late this afternoon I gathered the coins from our spare change jar and cashed it in to purchase canned goods for our local food bank which is run by St. Anne's Episcopal Church.   Again, a small thing, but something I so often neglect to do, even when my congregation members are so faithful in doing so.  It wasn't much, maybe three grocery bags worth, but someone in this community who is desperate for some vegetables for dinner will have some.  There are many families in Appomattox who are struggling in this economy.  Many have lost jobs or find it difficult to commute to bigger cities such as Lynchburg to find work.  St. Anne's, a smaller church than ACHPC, does a fantastic job at meeting the needs of this community, and I am thankful to be able to help.  

There are days when I come home cranky and tired, like tonight by dinner time.  But then, my husband grills us steaks for dinner.  And as I sit on the front porch and enjoy the breeze and the birds chattering about their day, I am humbled to be so very fortunate in this life.  We have good jobs, a roof over our heads and food for our table.  We have family and friends who love us and help us along the way.  And I have this amazing inspiration in my friend Aimee, who loved me as I am. A woman who changed the lives of so many people with whom she shared her smile and her faith in Christ through her words and her actions.  I am humbled to have been a part of this service day in her honor with countless others across the country.  What a joy that we can all share a little piece of her as well as the love of God. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Let's Talk About Lent

I did not grow up paying all that much attention to Lent.  As a young person I perceived "giving up" something for Lent to be a very 'Catholic' notion and not something protestants really did.  Plus, giving up chocolate is just ludicrous! I think that even more now that as a pastor there are days when chocolate is a MUST to jump the hurdles as I sprint to Easter, as is caffeine. 

But, I do not really think that it is the giving up of something that is important.  Lent is not diet to help you shed the pounds you have not lost since you declared to do so New Years Day so by all means, if you like soda or chocolate, have some! If you are going to deprive yourself during Lent, at least know why and have some meaning behind it.  To sacrifice, I think is symbolic of Christ's sacrifice for us on the cross.  That, to me, is way bigger than vowing not to eat M&Ms for a month.  A sacrifice in that case should be something that draws you into  greater relationship with the Lord.  Only you can decide what that looks like.  Maybe it is giving up that extra hour of sleep because you have been missing time in devotion or prayer.  Maybe it is removing one element of your life to add something greater to it.

I do find it fascinating that there are so many debates swirling around "not being allowed to say Merry Christmas on our public streets" or "not being allowed to pray in schools" and yet....many devoted Christians brush Lent under the rug, ignoring the days between Ash Wednesday and Easter mostly because we do not want to give up anything!  Especially our precious time, to go to a Bible Study or a community worship service, or simply to strengthen our faith at home.

  But let me be clear, giving up things  for Lent is not 'doing works' for salvation.  Lenten practices are not necessary for your salvation, only faith in the life, death, and resurrection that Easter celebrates is needed.

Lent can help attune our bodies, minds, souls, to that very moment of rejoicing that Christ Is Risen! It is a time of personal introspection.  Who are you, whose are you? What is your relationship with the triune God?  It is a time of communal worship.  We gather together in sanctuaries, fellowship halls, and homes to communally confess our sins to one another and be assured of the forgiveness we are granted in Christ. It can be a time to recall how great the sacrifice of life was for Christ and lament for the pain he and those who loved him endured.  We can lament the pain that we too as part of the greater humanity also endure as we strive to follow Christ's call to us.  It can be a time of study, a time to devote ourselves to learning more about our faith and perhaps the faith of others.

These are the reasons why, in recent years, Lent has become an important practice to me, not just because I am a pastor and I "have to do it," but that I want to experience this time, to honor Christ's sacrifice and find myself all the more joyful when we stand before the empty tomb. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Holding On To Earthly Things

I think by now that most of you know I have had a very difficult week.  On Sunday someone very special to me, my mentor, and family friend Aimee Wallis Buchanan passed away due to complications stemming from the flu and ultimately pneumonia.  Aimee was just 44 years old and left behind a devoted husband and two teenage children who I have known all of their lives.  I tell you this because today I am speaking from a very honest and heartfelt place.  I must be honest with you in telling you that writing about Jesus’ transfiguration was the last thing in the world I wanted to do this week.  I contacted some of my minister friends and I said to them, “I am heartbroken and I don’t know how to write about God’s presence and Jesus’ shimmering white robe when I am sad and angry with God regarding his bigger plans that I don’t understand. Why did God take my friend from this world, a woman who was serving God’s kingdom with her whole life? ”  But Aimee taught me to use my words for healing.  Aimee told me when I was very young that God is big enough to take our anger, our wailing and gnashing of teeth.  It is okay to cry and ask God tough questions when you don’t understand what God is doing. 

So it is very hard for me to talk about the glorious mystery of God today, because, I myself, am not thinking it so glorious.  Rev. Rick Morley made the point in his blog post this week that we as humans want to know everything, and right now, if you please.  What did we do before we had Google at our fingertips?  How did we ever stay in touch before the days of texting and Facebook.  He writes, “As humans we've always had a hunger and thirst for knowledge—well ever since Eden that is. And, as technology has advanced through the millennia, we want more and more knowledge within our grasp at all times.”[1]
Morley goes on to say, “For faithful Christians, that’s no different with our relationship to God. We want to know things about God. We want to know how to relate to God. We want to know how this story, or this proverb, or this anecdote applies to our life. Tangibly. Really.”  But we all know that God cannot be explained by a series of readily available facts and statistics.  God is a mystery and Morley relates our relationship with God to that of sitting in a cloud, as clouds are so prevalent in the scripture passages today.  “It’s like entering a thick cloud, where everything is obscured. Distorted. Colorless. Disorientated. But, there, in the midst of the cloud is the Presence of God who has come to be with you.”[2]
We all need to learn how to sit in the cloud.  Even pastors, regardless of how many books we have read, how many sermons we have written, are anxious about being wrapped in the fog as it descends.  We need to learn how to be comfortable about knowing about something, without full understanding the big picture, the Something, with a capital “S”.
More than I ever have before; I think I can relate to Peter’s response to his time on the mountain with Jesus.  The gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus had taken Peter, John, and James with him, up the mountain, to pray.  The story describes them as being ‘weighed down with sleep.’ But because they stayed awake, they were able to see Moses and Elijah appear and have a conversation with Jesus about his departure.  Peter wants to cling to that moment on the mountain; he wants to make the mystery that surrounded them in that cloud tangible and enduring.  He is simply trying to make sense of this situation as best he can.  
I, too, long to hold on to earthly things, to cling to this earthly life! More than anything else I want my friend; I want to see my friend’s dancing eyes and radiant smile once more.  I want her to breathe the fresh mountain air, to listen to music and play with her beloved pet.  More than anything, I want her to grow old; hand in hand with her husband and see her two children graduate from high school and college.  To grow tall and get married and have families of their own.  I want that.  I can see and hear and touch that kind of life.  I cannot see or feel heaven.  I cannot wrap my mind around the resurrection, even though I believe with all my heart that it is true!  So, much like Peter, who was so contented in his earthly life with Jesus that he fell sleepy, I too have often looked at my earthly relationships with bleary eyes, taking for granted this realm. I have not been content to sit in the cloud, not willing to hear the voice of God saying, “This is my son, my chosen, listen to him!”  “This is my plan Loren, mine not yours, sit with me.”
Rev. Morley writes; “Moses came down from the clouded mountain with his face radiant—changed. Because it’s in the cloud that we’re changed. Peter, James, and John are changed on that mountain—forever. And, not because they learned lots of fun-filled facts. In reality, they probably descended with more questions than answers. But, like Moses, they met the Living God. And, that’s what changes us. That’s what alters the course of our lives. And, as Christians, that’s what we’re all about: being in God’s Presence.”[3]
Today, I think our challenge is to figure out how it is that we meet the living God.  His presence is everywhere, in creation, in worship, in the people we encounter.  The truth of the matter is that I encountered the Holy Spirit in Aimee Wallis Buchanan.  In her ministry and the way she lived her life, she showed God to me.  She may not have stood before me in dazzling white but her smile truly shined and her hugs warmed the heart.  My friend, the Rev. Jeremy Cannada reminded me that the glory that we see manifested in Jesus in this mountaintop moment is the glory that is promised to every person of faith.  He said to me that “the resurrection is God's love given for us, and Christ transfigured is Aimee's faith.”  
We are not promised that being witness to the Resurrection will be easy, we are not assured that because we have faith our lives will be without pain, or that service to the Lord keeps us from illness or heartbreak.  But we are promised eternal life, and we see a glimpse of that this week in Jesus.  In the days to come, I will try to remember this, and I hope that you will too.  Let us cling to this promise, mysterious as it is.  Amen.

[1] Rev. Rick Morley, www.rickmorley.com, internet accessed 1/31/13
[2] Rev. Rick Morley
[3] Rev. Rick Morley

Monday, February 4, 2013

She Changed The World

Today I will do something Aimee Wallis Buchanan taught me to do, to use my words for healing instead of hatred.  Today through my tears and my grief I will remember a woman who embodied to me the Holy Spirit with her entire being.  

Throughout the day I have been amazed at the number of people who, through various social media outlets, have shared their love of Aimee and the entire Buchanan Family.  As my friend Katie Stetson expressed so simply and perfectly, "she changed the world."  This is no doubt true, as I speak from my own experience in saying that Aimee's presence in my life shifted my entire worldview in a matter of just a few encounters. 

The one word I keep coming back to when I think of my mentor, my friend, Aimee:  VIBRANT!  There are a lot of other adjectives bound up in that word such as witty, passionate, joyful, radiant.  I picture her eyes dancing with anticipation as she prepared to share... well anything... a story, a joke, a sermon, a witty zinger which she used to throw at us teenagers in youth group every now and then. When Aimee walked into a room I think it expanded, to encompass her spirit.  She would literally set the tone and temperature of the space she was in, always warm and inviting.  Her deep laughter would echo down corridors and hallways and settle in your soul.  Her heart was as big as her beloved state of Texas and I never doubted the sincerity with which she shared her love with me and with everyone she knew.  For fifteen years of my life she has rejoiced at all of my triumphs, listened and given counsel in all of my fears. 

 I can remember many times watching her walk determinedly in one direction, clearly on a mission, only to turn on a dime and walk with just as much vigor in the opposite direction, for a purpose just as important.  She was always busy living, busy parenting, busy creating, busy ministering. I suppose that it might be from Aimee that I learned that faith is about living.  Church is a verb, not a noun, your faith leads you to active verbs... being, doing, caring, loving, listening, welcoming. 

Aimee and Bill opened my eyes and my heart to my God given gifts at a very young age.  I say both Bill and Aimee because the two are always coupled in my mind, like Bob and Jo (Carson) or Peanut Butter and Jelly.  Knowing that Aimee studied English and loved creative writing and theater only made me look up to her more. The first time I saw her walk out on stage at Montreat and do a keynote I think my life shifted. I think, on some level, I knew I wanted to do that. I wanted to use creative expressions in worship.  I wanted to have an impact on someone else's life the way she and Bill and countless others in my new church family were having on me.   Aimee and Bill both showed me that my love of creative writing could be channeled into expressing my love for God.  They encouraged me to write skits and poems and prayers for worship.  

One of my brightest memories of Aimee is ten or twelve of us teens, gathered around her in the sanctuary at Bedford Pres, Elli no doubt toddling about somewhere in the background.  Before we got ready to practice any youth Sunday or Christmas Eve she would make us do these vocal exercises.  We would have to say things like "red leather, yellow leather" and "rubber baby buggy bumpers" over and over, faster and faster until we all exploded into a fit of laughter.  She also did this thing where we had to stretch our faces and make our eyes as wide as possible "big face" and then pinch our eyes and lips together, "little face".  "Big Face!"..."AHHHHH"  "Little Face"...."mewmewmewmew".  I have no doubt that she has used the techniques with hundreds of worship teams at conferences, youth groups, and Many Voices. 

The truth is that Aimee recognized that God was at work in my life, calling me to some form of ministry long before I ever did.  And she wasn't afraid to tell me that, even though the thought terrified me.  But from that point on, the first time she showed that confidence in me, the first time she encouraged me in that way, I was in awe of her.  So much of her ministry has been an inspiration to me.  She had this deep dedication and drive in her work.  I could tell that she really loved what she did, much more than a job, a vocation.  It made me grow into a woman knowing two things: One: I could do and be anything I wanted to be in this world, including a minister.  Two: Whatever I did in life, I needed to love it, I would need to utilize my gifts, otherwise I would never be happy. When I told them I felt called to ministry, it was like telling them I like french fries.  They already knew.  They had helped raise me in the faith, they knew me, they knew God was at work in me.   When nothing else in this crazy world makes sense today, I know this: that she was happy and blessed.   

Aimee's compassion is something that I strive to match (I am nowhere close).  When I think of Micah 6:8 Aimee comes to mind as a shinning example of what it means to "do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God."   Aside from my own mother, Aimee has been the single most influential woman in my life, mostly in the example she set for me of how she lived.  I am amazed by her work with Asheville Youth Mission, and of course Bill's too.  That they, as partners in all things, took this leap of faith to start a ministry from the ground up, one that was deeply important to them, being hands on in the community...it was brave, it was inspiring. It was, as I think Bill would say, "a God thang."   She taught me about compassion.  She taught me about justice. She taught me about hope. 

So today, as I am submersed in sadness; I try to think about the way she lived, rather than the fact that she is gone.  I continue to wait for the pastoral voice in my head to turn on and remind me of all the things I've been taught, all of the things I know to say to others in their time of grief.  I remember Aimee's voice telling me, "It is okay to ask God tough questions, it is okay to wail against God because you are angry or you are sad." But mostly I try to fill the hole in my heart, like this blank page, with thoughts of someone amazing, someone I am honored to know and love.