Musings from a Pastor, Educator, Wife, and Mother





Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Power of an Invitation



I keep this photo in my office.  It is a picture of a trip to Montreat.  My mom and I were hanging out with one of our favorite families, the Buchanan's.  We were playing by the creek, you see, and I am pretty sure Elli and Taylor (who are now of college and high school age) were peeking into a bucket of tadpoles.  They'd also made friends with another boy who you see photographed, whom we didn't know.  You see my mom leaning in to ask the kids about what they have found while Bill and Aimee look on.  I managed to capture this perfect little moment of people so dear to me.

You also see a postcard, handwritten, by Aimee, inviting me to the Girl's Youth Bible Study in her home when I was just a freshman in high school. I was new to the community, very new to the church at the time.   I kept it in my Bible for years.   Bill was the Associate Pastor and in charge of the youth program at my church.  But he and Aimee were very much a team and our program would not have been complete without the two of them teaching us, guiding us, and the most important step, inviting us.  They invited youth to church.  They invited youth into their homes.  They invited youth into their lives.  They became part of my family and they changed me and inspired the course of my life.

Aimee passed away three years ago today.  On that day I wrote another post about her, "She Changed The World," which you can read if you want to hear more about the impact this beautiful individual had on my life.  But for today, I am thinking about the invitation.  All the invitations she extended to me while she was a part of my life.  The first was the postcard pictured above.  

Do you know why I went to that Bible Study group?  It wasn't because my friends were going.  It was because a personal invitation was extended to me by an adult.  An adult who had shown an interest in me.  I had many questions about the Bible and at the time this postcard was presented to me, I felt perhaps this could be the person to help me explore for the answers I was seeking.  Aimee cared about me and knew me by name after the first time she met me.  And she made me feel welcomed from the instant she greeted me and opened the door to her home.

Another invitation came the day she and Bill asked if I would babysit their daughter Elli, who was a toddler at the time.  Oh my goodness, they trusted me with this precious little girl! I loved her to death, still do.  We would play outside in the sunshine with sidewalk chalk.  We would play dress up and read stories for hours.  Now Elli is in college and watching her grow up from a distance, even as I see her express herself in blogs or on social media, she is teaching me about balancing strength and grace as a woman in today's world.  Just as her mother once did.  

So today I am encouraging all of us to consider the depth and breadth of what we think is a simple invitation to a friend, a neighbor, a young family, a teenager, to attend church.  To you it may just be a kindness.  For you it may be your job as minister, director, elder, or deacon, to welcome strangers and bring people into your midst.   It can be so much more than opening a door to a building or a community.  It could influence and inspire them for the rest of their spiritual life.  You may be the person who introduces them to the love and grace of the Triune God. 

This picture reminds me of the value of finding a church home.  It reminds me of the people who model living their faith.   It inspires me to be a servant for God, who called me into the ministry.  Each day, but especially this day, I am thankful. 


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Even Pastors Have Road Rage

I was driving to a committee meeting the other night.  If you are a Presbyterian reading this you know just how frequent those 6:45 PM treks to the church can be.  I wasn't running late and I wasn't in a particular hurry to reach my final destination.  At least I didn't think that I was until I got to a stoplight and c r e p t through the green light to make a right turn.  And then c r e p t through another green arrow, left turn.... then wound my way around a two lane road at a glacial pace behind a driver whose need for speed did not exceed the 15 mile per hour mark.  I found myself saying, "MOOOOVE!" or "GO" with multiple syllables like my son.  He wasn't in the car with me, so I should get points for not being ugly with my kiddo in the car.   Anyway, I had a thought: maybe a good book would be "How To Be Pastoral While Driving."  I'd read it.  And I said as much when I got to my committee meeting.  We had a good chuckle and then another woman said something to the effect of, "Yeah, that is the book you'd read but maybe you need one we all could read; "Even Pastors Get Road Rage!"

You heard that right.  Even pastors get road rage.  We are just as human as you are.  And we are just as impatient as you are.  And we are just as snarky as you are after a long day of work.  We get road rage.  We get exasperated in the grocery store.  We get toe-tapping irritated waiting at the doctor's office.  If you don't know us as ministers, if we aren't wearing a clerical collar; chances are that we can fly under the radar and be seen as "just another person" in these instances.

I share this because at the end of the day, we don't want to be put on a pedestal by everyone and expected to be model citizens every day or the most pious, patient, practical people in every moment.  I hope this doesn't make us less credible as your spiritual leaders.  I actually hope that it gives us a little more credibility.  I hope that it allows you to feel that you can come to us, confide in us, be your true self around us.  Because we find ourselves in the same life experiences day in and day out as you.  And we long to help you connect those mundane moments, whether good or bad, to the good news that we find in Christ. 

How would you be pastoral while driving?  Use your turn signal.  Let someone merge into traffic.  Give a friendly wave to your neighbor.  Give yourself an extra five minutes travel time so that those individuals who do not have a lead foot like you don't have to see your exasperation in their rearview.    I'll try to do better too.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Lightbearers and Peacemakers

When you think about people who inspire you whether it is in your professional or personal life, who comes to mind?  I have lots of individuals who have inspired me: parents, mentors, teachers, pastors, friends.  Sometimes there are individuals that we engage on the edges of our lives that impact us for a season or for a lifetime.  David LaMotte is one such individual for me. 

 I first met David at a Montreat Youth Conference as a high school freshman, my very first Montreat experience! David was the musician who performed a concert one of the nights at the conference.  As is the case with many musicians, especially at conferences or smaller venues, you get an opportunity to greet them, take photographs, get an autograph (I hear people don't do that anymore....I do!) and then you go about your merry way.  David is a little different, I think, because he is so genuine in his performances and he weaves life's stories into his concerts in such a way that you leave feeling like you know him already. He also truly takes a lot of time to "meet and greet" people. Luckily for me, I've gotten to experience multiple concerts and a few workshops along the way too.  I've had a chance to follow David's musical career as well as support his other endeavors.  When David said he was retiring from music to study peacemaking and conflict resolution in Australia I went on a road trip with friends for the "Farewell Concert."  I gave what I could to support the kickstarter campaign that led to the publishing of David's book "White Flour." I've followed his blog posts about PEG Partners and the good work happening in Guatemala. I've read and studied (with great anticipation) his book "Worldchanging 101: Challenging the Myth of Powerlessness."

David inspires me in my personal life as a writer.  His attention to the craft of writing and storytelling is lovely.  I could never put words to music as he does, but all the same, words matter.  I took his writing workshop at ARW when I was in seminary and I remember him saying, "The muse likes to be followed, she doesn't like to be pushed."  Believe me, that is helpful stuff when it comes to sermon writing some days!

In both my personal and professional life, David's work in outreach ministries as well as conflict resolution and peacemaking have made an impact.  David doesn't tell you that you have to do things a certain way in order to make a difference in the world and he doesn't try to change your mind so that your views align perfectly with his own.  What he does is create space for you to move, think, and feel your own way through the obvious tensions and difficulties that we experience in the world.  David will be one to remind you that you can start right where you are to make a positive impact on the world around you.  He always says, "You are changing the world, whether you like it or not." 

As Christians, I think the message from Christ for us is clear.  You don't really get a choice not to make an impact in the world.  Our mission is to love God & Neighbor.  To do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.  There are so many instances in our world today where that foundational message of the Bible is being overlooked and forgotten.  We are called to address the injustices in the world... we can't fix all of them, or even one of them on our own...but if we begin where we are, with the resources that we've been given....

And now, I get to say that David LaMotte is coming to Covenant next month to perform a concert and lead a workshop on Worldchanging 101!  I am so thrilled that this is happening.  It has been my pet project almost since the very beginning of my ministry at Covenant.  We've had a Christ Connections class meeting this year on Sunday mornings at 9:15 about Peacemaking... about inner peace and social justice.  They've been using David's book and talking about public figures who have impacted our lives throughout history.   I am proud of this congregation for having those difficult but fruitful discussions and I am excited to see how they will respond to David's visit as well as what steps they will take toward making their own ripples in our community and the world. 

To learn more visit www.davidlamotte.com

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Lifelong Learning

Isn't it amazing what we think we know?  What makes individuals an expert on anything?  Is it how many degrees they have? Is it how many years of experience they have had? Is it a personal passion for a topic?  These questions may be easy to answer if we are talking about being a meteorologist or a doctor.  For example, I may be really interested in human anatomy, but that doesn't mean you should come to me when you are having chest pains.  And I have a lot of personal experience with erratic Virginia weather, having lived here my whole life, but I can't look to the sky and tell you for certain if those clouds forming determine a hail storm  (I have a friend, Bonnie, who could tell you probably. Because it is of her interests and experience).

But how do we answer these questions when it comes to talking about and learning about our faith? Who do you trust to guide you in lifelong learning about the Bible, Faith, and Christian Life?  As an ordained minister with degrees in Divinity and Christian Education I find that I can be a bit of a snob about this.  I want pastors to be educated, to have gone to seminary and earned degrees in ministry. I worked hard for my education so I get a little peeved when ministers from other denominations at times don't have any credentials such as this.  I fear that those who follow those leaders may be lead astray.  This is my bias, I will be honest and not one that is always true. 

But I do not find myself believing that pastors are the only people who can teach other Christians about the faith.  For some, this is the norm, the only individuals that are trusted to interpret the Scriptures, to help guide our spiritual life are the ministers.  I wonder at what age that changes?  It is okay  faithful volunteers to teach our little children the Bible stories.  At what stage of life does the shift happen where only scholars can guide other adults in the faith? Middle School? High School?  After college?  As adults we find often that we distrust others.  We worry that other adults may not have done their homework adequately or that they may stir in their own personal biases in Bible Studies or Sunday School Forums.  I am not saying that this does not happen but when we walk into the doors of our churches and our sanctuaries, aren't we supposed to suspend our distrust and disbelief in humanity?  Aren't we called to be one body? 

I believe in the priesthood of all believers.  And I believe in the beauty of many voices and interpretations of the Scripture, that in dialogue we can all learn from one another.  I believe that we can never know all that there is to know about the Bible, no matter how many degrees we have.  This does not mean that we will all have the exact same level of knowledge, or we will all agree about the Bible message and how it intersects with our lives today.  But, that is OK!  Surely, as Peter, James & John followed Jesus they didn't always hear the same message.  And yet, they were vital to the faith and the future of the Church.  

With that being said, I suppose my point is this: while it does take a special, dedicated individual to lead our congregations in prayer, in study of the Scripture, and other writings from individuals who are faithfully engaging the Bible... there are many faithful Christians who fit that description who are guiding many people in thoughtful theological discussions the world over.  And there are many who fit the description who are afraid to step forward and participate in this way. 

We can all teach, preach, and learn from one another.  And we ALL have more to learn.  I think that is a beautiful thing because it means that God is never finished being at work in and through us.   Let us not relegate Sunday School to children only.  Let us not think that Bible Study only happens successfully when the pastor leads it.  And let us not think that one Bible Study will ever be enough.  Let us be open to new ways of engaging in the Word.  Let us stretch ourselves beyond what is comfortable. Let us admit we haven't immersed ourselves in the Bible narrative (I haven't). Let us admit that we cannot recite all the psalms (I can't). Let us be honest that we don't know all of the historical context of our faith (I don't).  Let us confess that we do not have an answer for all of the questions that come up about our faith (I don't and won't). It is time to stop pretending and embrace the fact that this is OK! Let us be present in a lifetime of Christian learning. Let us not doubt that we can listen and learn, speak and educate, together.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Come, All Ye Faithful

I'm starting the New Year's Resolution early.  Hopefully that doesn't mean it will sputter out early, too!  When thinking about positive ways to engage one another as family, friends, neighbors, brothers & sisters in Christ (whatever best suits your needs) I think perhaps one way I can aid in this engagement is by blogging on a more regular basis.  I always do a monthly blog for my son, Kemper, and if you want to read those you can check out http://junebugsandpickuptrucks.blogspot.com/.  But this will be a more concentrated effort on thinking about faith, ministry, every day life and where they intersect. 

A familiar hymn during this season is "Come, All Ye Faithful."  The hymn calls on us to "Come and behold him, born the King of angels. Oh come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord."  Here is what I find so fascinating about Christmas.  It is all the people that you get to see at special Christmas Concerts and Worship services, and pageants and church that you don't see any other time of year.  You know what I am talking about, the Christmas and Easter people.  Maybe you are one of them.  On Christmas we do come, we flock together to bear witness to "Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing!" And then Christmas Day comes and goes, life's routines fall back into place, and we lose that brilliant light and joy that we experienced for those few hours together in the great fellowship halls, live nativity stalls, and sanctuaries of our places of worship. 

Why?

What is it that brings us back time and time again for Christmas, the story we know best?  And what is it that prevents us from coming back for Sabbath time all the days following?

Is it the same old stories?  Is it too much politicking and hypocrisy (we've all heard that argument)?  Is the worship not feeding you spiritually?  And, more importantly, is the church not serving and/or directing its worship to God? 

Our church theme at Covenant this year is "Already Home."  The thought behind this being that in Covenant you have a place that you can feel comfortable and welcome, a place where you can lay your weariness aside and reconnect with one another and God.  We seek to fill our needs with so many other activities, clubs, and associations, but in God and together as the body of Christ, you already are given what you need.  

So, I challenge you as the new year approaches to Come.  Come worship with us on Christmas.  And keep on coming.  

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.  

http://www.wset.com/story/25061872/little-girl-taken-out-of-christian-school-after-told-shes-too-much-like-a-boy#.UzEHPsSx7ew.facebook 


http://ftpcontent.worldnow.com/wset/SKMBT_60114032514080.pdf

tcs4u.org

 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

--Hanson--