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The (Im)Printing Press

Thousands of stamps covered the walls. Upper case letters, lower case letters, symbols, numbers. I entered the print shop and left the millennium behind. I was in the 1800s and saw the beauty of the print shop. It was glorious. I was transported. The docent kindly showed me around, explaining the history and offering print examples. She explained that in the 1890s this print shop printed four billion subscriptions a day and four billion patterns per day. Amazing! How much simpler printing has become in our time. Four billion people can read a post in seconds. Four billion. It wouldn’t take all day to type up. In fact, what I’m typing here might take one person an entire morning to organize in a print shop in the 1800s. It’s taking me just a matter of minutes.

The letters for the printing had to be put in order of wording, upside down and backwards. They were fed into a machine, and then after printing the words were dismembered and put back into their places. The order was not alphabetical, and – oddly enough – not like a QWERTY keyboard. The printers had a different method that worked for them. This would take all day.

Now, a Tweet can go out in seconds. In fact, there goes another one.

The development of the internet is amazing, especially to see how much progress has been made. Yet, it is also disheartening. All the time it took to carefully re-member words meant the words were remembered easier – and that they were, perhaps, more impactful. The words were also carefully chosen before being distributed to the masses. The impact of the word was considered. Today words are posted without a second thought. Print is an art that is disappearing. I’ve been eyeing typewriters lately, because – like rotary phones – they will one day disappear and the next generation will look at us strangely when we mention typewriters – perhaps the same way that I looked at my folks when they talked about eight tracks. I think it is important to recognize how technology has evolved but also to value the word. As someone who deals with the word (lowercase) and Word (upper case – how long would that have taken the printer?) I put great value on words. My words don’t always come out correctly, but they are mine. I apologize when they hurt, I rejoice when they are helpful and compassionate – especially when someone reads the words and can relate, and maybe even say, “That’s exactly what I think – but couldn’t put it into words!” Those are the moments writers wait for (im)patiently.

As I’ve been attempting to improve my writing and learn about the writing process I have been submitting some pieces to be published. As many writers learn, publishing isn’t easy. I think every (or most) writers think, “Writing is difficult. I’ll submit a few, and then someone will magically read my words and they will be published!” whether for notoriety sake or something else. I’ve been to writers’ conferences that have explained the long, strenuous process of writing and publishing, and the experts always stress how hard it is to be published. “Of course it is!” writers think. “I’ll be rejected a couple times, then I’ll hit my big break!” It is almost like we know our writings will be rejected a couple times, but not over and over. And over. And over.

I think I’m in my fifth or sixth “over” right now. But I found the silver lining in the cloud of word raindrops falling down (hm. And I wonder why I haven’t been published yet? Terrible metaphors might be the answer). I recognize that at least the words I’m typing for now are still my words. Once someone begins publishing, they become someone else’s words, as well. The editor’s, the publisher’s, and others. It may not change the intent, or the core meaning, but to sell a book, to sell an article, you have to sound a certain way, and your writing changes. A good editor and a good publisher will keep your essence, but I’m sure there are those out there who don’t, too.

So, I’ll keep submitting material, because the goal for me is to improve, not to be a published author. This isn’t a publishing plea – because if I wanted to publish words, there are plenty of self-publishing options. For me, that’s not where I’m headed. Instead, it is about finding the meaning behind my words – what is it I most want to express? What do I want heard? What is the impact I want to make? And I turn that question to you – what impact will you make? How we make impacts is always changing – through print, through voice, through blogs and Tweets. The medium isn’t as important as the message, but sometimes the medium can inspire our message.

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Breathe In

“Focus on your breath.” I love attending yoga classes but don’t do it often enough. I try to practice yoga at home at least weekly, but without a guide, I tend to fly through the poses. I forget about my breath, and it becomes more about crossing the finish line than trying to find spiritual depth and enlightenment. Like many Americans I know who do yoga, it becomes more about exercise and stretching than about the deeper intent.

Without planning to, I have made it a tradition to go to a yoga class the weekend before Holy Week. Many years ago I was invited to a yoga retreat in Indianapolis where I ended up being one of two people who actually showed up. It was an amazing experience and it gave me the centering and focus I needed to trudge through Holy Week (or, as a colleague of mine once called it, Hell Week).

This past weekend I was grateful to attend a Hot Yoga class with my mom. She goes regularly, but I had never been to this specific kind of yoga. I immediately noticed the warmth all over my body, and later described it as feeling like I was in the womb again (as if I could remember what being in the womb felt like to begin with). I stretched, I rolled on my back, I waited for the yoga instructor to begin.

She encouraged us to come up with a practice for the day – something to guide us. She suggested being kind to ourselves, focusing on peace, and a variety of things. These all sounded like things I needed to work on, plus five hundred other ideas that popped in my head – and I never actually focused on anything. I was already too overwhelmed, so I never came up with an intention.

We practiced deep breathing – the kind where you breathe in through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Then, the most wonderful thing happened. The instructor encouraged us to be inspired by our neighbor’s breath. I focused on my neighbor’s breath – someone who did yoga more regularly than I did. Her breath was steady and even and deep. No matter how many times throughout yoga I became distracted or discouraged, I went back to her breath, which was always there, and which was always encouraging.

What perhaps was even more inspiring, was that she said this practice should not only remind us to breathe, but to encourage us to breathe for others. An entire room of people cannot depend on one person to breathe. If your neighbor is counting on your breath to be inspiring, you need to breathe, too.

By the end of our class, as we said a collective “OM” I felt as though our breaths were all connected and even breathed for one another. There was great power when we all breathed together.

In a world of chaos, we need to remember to breathe. I often think we are holding our breath and trying to just survive, rather than thrive. Our breath is connected. Archbishop Desmond Tutu often talks about the term “ubuntu,” which reminds us that our lives are connected. We are connected. When we hurt our neighbor, we feel it, as do others around us. When we hurt, others feel it. Our breath is connected.

We must be inspired by our neighbors, especially when we forget to breathe. And never forget that you are inspiring to others, as well. We never know when someone is looking for inspiration, and that they might find it in us – in a kind gesture, in a smile, in a deep breath.

Namaste.

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Problems

“What’s it like to live in the opioid center of the Midwest?” Well, I don’t know – I don’t live there. Though, after a recent article about the town in which I live, I know this has crossed the minds of many people. The article painted a gruesome picture of opioid use and suicide – a community in distress.

The truth is, we are a community in distress – there is no doubt about it – and so are so many other Midwestern towns. We aren’t the best, we aren’t the worst – we’re just the one someone chose to write about. Except, the whole problem cannot be summed up by “opioids and suicide.” Yes, drugs are a problem, but not just opioids. Yes, suicide is an issue – but not all suicides are drug overdoses. The reality is much more complex than that, as I’m sure it is in other towns, as well.

Both of these issues, which have overlapped in some ways, but not all, are being taken seriously by the community. A group through the local hospital, is attempting to tackle both issues through a Healthy Initiatives group. These subgroups work toward ending suicide and ending drug use. The ministerial association has held a worship service to remember those who have taken their lives. The Clearinghouse has been in action for many years, offering addiction services. We aren’t ignoring the issue – but perhaps the issue is bigger than we can tackle all at once.

Which is why we need the whole community to join together. There are many facets to these issues and it will take the entire village to work together to end drug use and suicide. It means not blaming, but listening. It means not shaming, but loving. It means education, taking one day at a time, and showing kindness.

The issue of suicide hits home for me in a couple ways. Two family members of mine took their lives tragically, and I have seen the aftermath. I see how the families mourn them, and how much value their lives had – but for whatever reason, they couldn’t see that.

To make a change means that we have to look at the world in a new way. For many, needle exchanges seem like enabling, but perhaps, until people can find the help they need (wait lists for addiction clinics can be long) this is helpful in the interim. We need more people trained in mental health. Perhaps it means looking at the world in a slightly different way because some of the ways we have tried in the past to make a difference aren’t working.

So maybe we can have an open mind, and an open heart, because there is hope. Except, we all have to be in this together – and I believe we are, as we want a better future for everyone.

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Lenten Break

Dark sky, gloominess, and rain. It is the perfect day for Lent. Living in the northern hemisphere, Lent falls during what I consider winter/spring time. Traditionally it is during the time when the sky is always gray and gloomy – sort of sets the tone for Lent – a time of reflection and gloom and meditating upon one’s own mortality.

Yesterday the sky broke open, the sun shone, and the temperature was seventy degrees! It wasn’t Lent for one day – and I needed it. I needed the warmth on my face and the hope for future days of sunshine. It was like a secret “alleluia” whispered in the season of Lent. (Can I even type “alleluia” in Lent?)

We need Lent. We need a time to remember that we are human, and that God is God. We need to remember that we cannot do it all. We are not invincible and we will not live forever and we will not last forever. Yet sometimes even those forty days seem like forever. Sometimes we glimpse Lent outside the season of Lent. What I mean by that is referencing those times during Advent or Ordinary Time when the world hits us hard – a friend dies, a beloved one is diagnosed with cancer, the world just isn’t right. Those days we experience Lent, too. So, we might need Lent, but we are experiencing it even beyond those 40 days. We need a break in the weather. We need a break in Lent.

Maybe I’m a Lenten wimp. I can’t go those full forty days without whining. Perhaps. I still continued my Lenten discipline, though. I still observed Lent – I just was reminded of a little hope. Our disciplines should go even beyond the 40 days, anyway. We’re supposed to start connecting with God (maybe in new ways, maybe we reacquaint with old practices) so that we can continue the dance beyond Easter. So, we remember to focus on God even beyond the day of resurrection.

We need that break. In our society, we need a break – from the shootings, from the pain, from the hatred. We cannot keep turning on the television and seeing these tragedies, or opening our doors, and seeing these tragedies, because we must see an end. Our children cannot grow up in this atmosphere. Our grandchildren depend on us to learn how to live together civilly. We owe it to ourselves, as well. I pray for a glimmer of hope that can carry us through the ashes, to the resurrection on the other side.

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Doors

The seminary spoiled me regarding apartment living. I didn’t realize it at the time – all I could see were the cement brick walls and the chips in the tile. After graduation my spouse and I moved across town. At first I thought the apartment was great – it was my first experience of searching for my own place as an adult. We had moved in after scoping out many low income places. My spouse was working full time, I was working part time, and we needed something cheap and temporary. At least, so I thought. I signed a month by month lease – one of our stipulations for wherever we ended up living. I was seeking my first ordained call as a minister and was convinced I would receive a call any day now – I was so wrong. When we first saw the apartment, we decided it was perfect for our needs. It hadn’t been updated like some of the other pricier options they had available, but it was good enough. It had a kitchen, a bathroom, and a bedroom – we were set.

The longer we stayed there, the more we were ready to leave. The towel rack fell continuously in the bathroom. It took maintenance forever to put it back up, and when it fell within a day, I just left it. The drain in the tub backed up after even a five minute shower. I didn’t even want to think about what kinds of germs lurked at my feet. The carpet was….not filthy? That’s the best way I could describe it. It was discolored and I tried not to think about how many smelly feet had rubbed their nasty bunions on it. The oven was so small we had to buy more cookie sheets because ours were too big. The disposal backed up often. We did our laundry in the apartment laundry mat and had to be quick to move it forward lest our wet clean clothes be piled on a machine, or – even better – the floor.

Those were all minor things – I could overlook them. I was working at Habitat for Humanity – I knew people who didn’t have houses – how could I complain about where I lived? I had a roof and a bed all my own. Except, I couldn’t move past the door. The only door that lead outside was not flush. I could see the hall light peering in over the top. The cold came in. The heat leaked out. Then the bugs came. They strolled in like they were looking for a Bug Motel. We were offering a variety of options for them – books for the Silverfish, small pieces of dog food stuck in the carpets for the ants, my flesh for the mosquitoes. I hated this apartment. Especially as the neighbors grew noisier. I just couldn’t wait to leave. We didn’t unpack our boxes for a long time. We pulled out enough clothes to last a week, some videos and games, some cooking utensils, but everything else stayed packed in boxes in a small narrow closet. Once in a great while I would go searching for something, knee high in boxes, stumbling over shoeboxes, and trying to find that blasted toaster.

I finally gave up. We weren’t going anywhere. I signed a six month lease and decided it was time to settle in and realize I was here for good. That night, I received an email from a church. Would I like to Skype? Of course! It is a progressive church in southern Indiana – seemed like a good match! I agreed, and six months later, my lease was up, and I was packing my boxes to move to southern Indiana. It was where God was calling me – I just had to realize that this search wasn’t my time, it was God’s time. I lifted those boxes into the moving van. When I arrived, a smiling crew of people waited in my new driveway, ready to take those boxes out. I happily sat and unpacked every single box. I wasn’t going anywhere – I was home.

Now I look at a new set of doors. These doors don’t fit, either. I’m not sure if these are the second doors, or the originals, but they aren’t flush. There is a gap at the top of some, and they don’t close all the way because of gaps at the bottom, or because the width is too wide and the plate in the jamb doesn’t fit.

As I look at those doors, I say a small prayer of thanks that they are interior doors. I’ve traded the silverfish for cave crickets, the ants for wasps, and the mosquitoes I’m pretty sure followed me in the moving van. Some things never change, but my gratitude does, as does my perception. That apartment wasn’t as bad as it could have been, and I’m grateful for the place God has placed me now.

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Star People

I immediately regretted answering the church phone. I could tell from his tone of voice and rhythm of speaking that he was a salesman or telemarketer. When he introduced himself I grunted a hello, and he could tell from my tone of voice I wasn’t interested. “Uh oh,” he said. “Your voice changed.” Then, he launched into his sales pitch. Why did I continue to listen? Why didn’t I hang up the phone? Despite my dislike for telemarketers and salespeople who push products I have absolutely no use for, my mother’s lesson of politeness always seems to kick in and override any potential to hang up. I have hung up on people before, but it took quite a bit to arrive to that place.

After finishing his long talk, he asked, “Does that sound like what you’re looking for?” I laughed. It had been a very long day – people asserting their dissatisfaction with me in rather blunt manners, running ten minutes late all day, despite the fact that I had left home ten minutes early, and feeling swamped by a never ending to-do list. “I have a list of things I’m looking for, sir. I don’t think your product is one of them.” At least it solicited a laugh – from both of us. I made a joke that if he found Jesus, let me know.

The man told me Jesus is always with us – and then began sharing his faith with me. He talked about being a Gospel singer and shared a story about how his faith deepened through a specific song. Somehow, he turned it right back around to the product he was selling. He was good.

Unfortunately for him, I didn’t make the financial decisions for the church, so I didn’t purchase his product. I felt slightly guilty, because I always feel bad having to tell someone who worked very hard that I won’t buy their product (that’s how I end up with fifty boxes of Girl Scout cookies). He was very understanding, mentioning that I must be a pastor because no one listens like pastors. That was a pretty good compliment for the day, considering I felt like my ears were closed in many ways.

Before hanging up, I thanked him for making me laugh. It wasn’t his end goal – and he probably won’t receive commission – but it was what I needed in that moment. “For what it is worth,” I told him, “you receive a star sticker for effort.” He said he would wear it proudly.

I’m not suggesting you talk at length to all the telemarketers who call you – I certainly don’t have that kind of time. Yet, there are moments where it seems I don’t have the time for much of anything. I’m busy rushing to finish my to-do list, I’m worrying about what someone said, or trying too hard to do something quickly rather than efficiently. In those moments, I miss what I’m truly called to do – I miss God, and I miss the people around me. Inevitably I miss myself, as well. Sometimes it takes people we don’t expect to make us laugh, to redirect us, and to remind us that life is not as bad as it seems. Those are the star people.

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Psalm 122

“I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let’s go to the Lord’s house!’”

How often do we rejoice to go to church? A colleague of mine reminisces about how he once had a drug problem – his parents drug him to church every Sunday, and that was a problem. Now, he’s a minister and loves going to church. Except, I think he might be one of the few. I do think people like church, and do enjoy going. I love to see the smiling faces of people at church, and I can only assume they are rejoicing. Yet, I sometimes wonder if people are rejoicing, or coming because they feel guilty. Not that guilt isn’t a good motivator. I recently read a quote from Flannery O’Connor: “Most of us come to church by a means the church does not allow.” Amen.

In high school I dated an evangelical Christian guy. I attended a PCUSA church on Sundays but really was not thrilled to be there. I didn’t feel like the sermons were speaking to me or like anyone cared if I was there or at home sleeping. For me, there was no community or purpose to church. On Wednesday nights I began going to an evangelical church just before I started dating the guy. The two churches were complete opposites. Sunday morning was traditional, Wednesday night was contemporary. Sunday morning I was one of just three youth, Wednesday night I was one of thirty. I still attended both, because I was able to see God in both places. I will admit, I started attending the evangelical church because of the guy, not because I was rejoicing about going to God’s house. Yet, over time, I learned that I did enjoy church. I did want to rejoice. Even after he and I broke up, I still went to church. In fact, that’s now where I spend most of my time – and where I am currently writing this entry. I sometimes think our motivations to go to church vary, and then shift over time. God is not particular when it comes to why we go to church – because once we are there, I believe the Spirit moves within us.

Yet, the Spirit does not move only within church walls. In fact, I believe the Spirit moves in many places – some of the most unexpected places, even. We can rejoice in God in our homes, in the park, and in coffee shops. God is moving within us all the time.

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Revisit

A place of safety and comfort. A place I always felt welcome to be myself. The house my spouse grew up in became a place of love – a third home for me. I could kick off my shoes and help myself to the fridge, leaving crumbs for the dogs to lick up – but because I loved his mother, I always cleaned up after myself. I laughed there when Samson, the chocolate Lab knocked over a quart of red jello on the only rug. I cried when my mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. This was a place filled with memories and emotions, even in just a short time. This was the place I met my spouse for the first time – met his entire family one Memorial Day weekend. After his mother died, we packed up all the things into boxes marked “keep” and “donate.” We distributed the flowers from the memorial. We took in the dogs and tried to fix up the house to sell. It took time, but we did find a buyer. Once, before the closing , we returned. I wept silent tears as I walked through the house – emptiness all around – empty of furniture, of life, of all but memories. I said goodbye and never went back. Yet, I still revisit the house in my memories. Like taking a pair of shoes that don’t fit – you can exchange them – they are never the same shoes. If we went back, it would not be the same house – but I hope it is a place of memories for whoever lives there now – memories they can revisit over and over again.

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Waiting…

It’s official. I have a problem. I’m currently engaged in five Advent calendars. It may not seem like a problem. In fact, I’ve been in denial for quite some time. When I was in college my roommate was the first to raise an eyebrow at this practice. Our first Christmas season together, I had packed a small Christmas tree with tiny ornaments, some garland, and my favorite Advent calendar. My roommate, a Baptist, didn’t celebrate Advent. She wasn’t opposed to it – but she was unsure of my calendar, because it had Santa on it. This calendar is one I grew up with, and so it has more sentimental meaning than anything else. It is a fabric wall hanging that has Santa and Mrs. Claus happily sitting inside their home drinking hot cocoa while animals frolic around happily in the snow. There are pockets below the scene with numbers, and each day I move the mouse closer to the 25th. My roommate rightfully asked why Santa was on the Advent calendar – something I never thought of before – but I shrugged it off because I wasn’t going to let her ruin this for me!

Since then, I still use the calendar, but also wanted to incorporate something more religious, since Advent is about Jesus, not Santa. I’m not opposed to Santa, I just want to make sure I’m seasonally accurate. So, this summer I purchased a metal Advent calendar with a picture of the nativity. I move a magnetic star to each day, closer and closer to the nativity scene.

Then, someone who knew my love of Advent calendars, gave me a window cling Advent calendar. Each day, I read a scripture passage and put up a part of the nativity up on the window. I slowly prepare the window for the birth of Jesus. The other two calendars are just the usual open the cardboard door to reveal a picture and scripture passage.

It takes me a few minutes each day to make my way through the whole ritual, because I can’t just move the mouse and move the star and put up the cling – I say things, I dance, and I actually sing a bit. It’s fun, and prepares me, but I’m pretty sure that when John was preparing the way, he wasn’t moving a mouse or dancing. He was baptizing.

I do still love my Advent calendars, but it has made me wonder if perhaps there is such a thing as “too prepared.” For those of us Type A personalities, I know this will come as a shock. That extra snack in your purse is necessary! That cash in your wallet “just in case” is a must! The six gallons of water in your trunk? Probably not hurting anyone. Except, sometimes I think we have to do what we can to prepare, and then actually wait. If we’re too busy preparing and gathering supplies and not present, we’ve missed the point. If we’re hoarding all the supplies, what about others who aren’t Type A? They shouldn’t be punished just because the rest of us are a little anal. My Advent preparation dance is fun, but if I’m not actually present with those who are poor, who are lonely, who are struggling to see the light in the season, then I’ve missed the point. Too often it is easy to count down to December 25 and miss days 1-24. I pray that I can prepare, and also wait, without rushing through to the end.

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#metoo

I’ve been hesitant to write anything personal regarding the #metoo movement. Mostly, I didn’t want to rehash anything I’ve already worked through. I also didn’t want people to see me as a victim. I don’t like that word, because I choose the word survivor. Mostly, I didn’t want anyone to look at me differently.

When I realized I don’t have to go into specifics, I was ready to write. I’ve always been a proponent of women’s rights and have been a strong feminist since my college days. I’ve loved exploring feminine images of God, because I think that God is so much more than we can imagine and cannot be limited by our language and dual thinking.

I wasn’t surprised by the #metoo movement. If anything, I’ve been surprised at how accepted it has become. In my lifetime I’ve rarely seen women’s allegations of rape and harassment taken seriously. In blatantly obvious cases, I’ve seen the justice system fail women for many years. I’ve known women who have stayed silent because it was “easier” to just go about life as if nothing happened, even though it eats away at them. I’ve seen women speak up and be ignored, called names. I pray that the #metoo movement has woken some people up – that a true change has been made.

I’m skeptical, though. On the day Time magazine announced the silence breakers as their person of the year, my sister-in-law sent me a link excitedly, saying there was hope. After clicking the link, I was not hopeful. I still am cautious, as for many years I have seen women gather their hopes up that life will be different, and then nothing changes. I then read an article citing how many individual women have been selected as the person of the year, and it was extremely low, to say the least. Then I remember who was the person of the year last year, and I am angered.

Yet, I still choose hope. In a world that is hurting, in a time where our country is being led by someone who has been caught on tape admitting to harassing a woman, during Advent when we wait for peace and for God to change the world, I choose hope. I choose hope because the alternate is utter despair, and we cannot let evil win. We cannot let hatred win. We cannot let sexism define us or our roles in the world. I will not be silenced, because I have much to say, and because God has spoken a word of love to all people – a word that I pray I live and preach in my daily life. I have hope because I want the world to be better for the next generation.

So, I speak up because I want the world to change. I want women to be respected. I am a survivor, and no longer care if I am looked at differently because I carry the #metoo. I am strengthened by the women who have spoken, and weep with the women who feel they must stay silent. I pray for a day when women will be treated with respect and love.

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Interior Decorator

Maroon curtains. Black and white designed footstools. Brown sofa. Black shelves. I have resigned myself to the fact that my home decor will never match. I have an eclectic style. Or, maybe not eclectic, as much as I walk into a store, see something I love, and buy it without worrying how it will fit into my home. I never had enough forethought to plan out an entire room, or enough money to hire a professional decorator. I have things that bring me joy – that have stories and a history attached to them. They don’t match each other and never will. As a child I wore this awesome multi-colored headband. When I say “awesome” I also mean “clashing.” It matched absolutely nothing in my wardrobe. I loved it so much. It was like my security blanket (and was functional!) and made me feel good. Many friends and adults tried to coax me away from this headband, but I stayed strong. So, maybe my house reflects that style – which is really no style at all. This is who I am.

Matching or not, I hope my home is comfortable. I want people to feel welcome. To me, a house should be lived in and full of life. A church should be the same – a place people feel comfortable that they can put their feet up on the coffee table and not worry about whether the trash was taken out or if the cobwebs were swept. I’m all for cleanliness, but perhaps we need to live in the mess a bit. The more we tidy up, the more we match all our decorations, the less comfortable people can feel. Frequently, when I visit people, they apologize for the mess in their homes. Of course, it isn’t a mess – it is a sign that people live there – which is what a house is for! We should be living in our churches, making ourselves comfortable enough that we feel welcome, but not so welcome that we live there all the time. The mess comes in to play that we spend more time outside the church, in community, than we do in the pews. So, the floor wasn’t vacuumed. But wasn’t sharing bread with your neighbor more important?

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Christmas Time Capsule

My mom is an expert at yard sale finds. She has always been able to dig through a chest of junk and find the one gem. As I was growing up, she frequently helped me find stylish clothing at second hand stores. Part of this, I think, is due to the fact that she has the patience to sit and rifle through an entire bag/box/garage of stuff, where most people give up after a glance. Her latest find recently made its way into my home – a box of wooden ornaments, ready to be painted. These decorations are perforated in a wooden punch out, one dimensional with black outlines for painting. Simple and fun. For $1.50, it was a good deal in my mind. Most of the ornaments are still in the punch-out, but some have been carefully painted. A diligent grandfather or loving grandmother may have painted them. Perhaps a man with a painting hobby, or a mom looking to entertain her children. Maybe a teacher took them for students to paint. I can only guess who owned these ornaments before I came into possession of them.

As I dug underneath the ornaments I came across some ads and magazines with order forms – some needlepoint craft ideas, a pantyhose advertisement, and other random papers. They were clearly dated by the yellowing paper and retro looking clothing – and the hair. Oh, the hair. After searching for a year, I found it – 1980. I felt like I had discovered a Christmas time capsule. I found joy in diving into these retro ads, taking note of how life had changed in over 30 years. No technology, no social media, no cell phones, no computers. 1980 was a different world – not better or worse, just different.

Now, this box is here. I’m sure this family didn’t anticipate selling this box in a garage sale – maybe they thought they’d complete all the ornaments and give them away. They probably didn’t imagine this to be the Christmas time capsule I have created it to be.

Who knows? Maybe I won’t finish these ornaments, either. Maybe I’ll end up putting these in my own yard sale – but I hope not.

What would I put in a Christmas time capsule? I remember asking myself this question (or, at least, a similar question) in grade school. What would we put in a time capsule that would show people a hundred years from now what our lives were like? In a similar vein, if you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you bring with you? The idea was that we should whittle down our hundreds of items and narrow it to just a few, to know what really mattered to us.

I don’t have answers to that question. I’d like to think I wouldn’t put in things, but experiences – pictures of people and memories written down. Though, I wonder how indicative it would be of my life. In my heart, I value experiences with people, but too often I’m scrolling through my phone or multi-tasking. So, what do I really value? Does my life reflect that value? I look at this time capsule and imagine that this person who owned these ornaments were great at crafting and creating, when, in reality, maybe this was the first and last craft they ever bought.

Whoever owned that box of crafts before me – thank you. Your unintentional time capsule has made me consider what I truly appreciate about Christmas, Advent, and life.

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Retreat

Four hours in the car for a three day event for new pastors. I was already well into my first year, and I was unsure how this group would be beneficial for me. I certainly didn’t know everything (or much of anything, now that I look back) but I remember wondering why it took an entire year for me to begin in this group. As I arrived at the Geneva Center, I realized that others felt the same way. We were all a bit cautious, but we showed up, unsure what to expect.

The three year New Pastor program turned out to be the best opportunity to me as a new pastor. We met twice a year with the entire group, and twice a year in subgroups. During that time I made colleagues, friends, and learned so much about how to do ministry, as well as how I maybe shouldn’t do ministry. I still don’t have it all figured out, but I at least know who to turn to when I feel lost and confused.

My required three years of the new pastor group is over, but a core group of us continue to gather together once a year to support one another and share resources. We’re now into our sixth year total. Earlier this month I traveled those familiar Indiana roads – past the church building along the highway that has been for sale ever since I began this call, beyond the interesting lamp store, and past numerous coffee shops (and I’m pretty sure I’ve stopped at every one). Some of the road has changed – I can’t drive through Kokomo anymore (which is unfortunate, because one of those coffee shops was located there), and I take Keystone instead of 31 after all the construction – but I always end up where I need to be.

As always, I relished the quiet time of reading and napping, and thrived on the conversations with colleagues, which made me laugh, think, and plan (I always leave with a million ideas). This time, I also left with a bag of granola. Food is provided for us, and each morning there are pancakes or waffles or sausage or bacon. No matter what, there is always homemade granola. I spend the entire year looking forward to this granola. I even make my own granola at home, but this takes the cake. (If granola took a cake, where would it take it? A pastry shop?) I don’t know what it is about this granola – it has raisins and crunchy goodness – it’s just amazing.

I mentioned to one of the cooks how much I love this granola, and the next day, a bag with my name on it was waiting for me. It completely made my day. How silly that a bag of granola can make such a difference, but it did – and all these people I meet yearly make such a difference in my life, just by showing up. We schedule some worship services and basic conversation, but overall the most important part of the entire event is showing up and being present – and acknowledging one another. This little bag of granola will fill my stomach, but it is also a reminder of how I was filled with love and gratitude every time I go on this retreat.

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Word

In a beginning

God spoke WORDS and creation came into existence.

Those WORDS were for everyone

But they were soon closely guarded,

Taken hostage.

Some were denied access to those WORDS.

Reform broke down the barriers –

The silence broken.

And it was good.

 

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything,

not only while being watched and in order to please them,

but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord.”

Fear who?

Because God doesn’t create the kind of fear

That makes you teach your sons

That it isn’t ok to go outside after dark.

God doesn’t create the kind of fear

That makes you teach your daughters

To hold their purses tighter.

God doesn’t create the kind of fear that teaches our children

To assume a police officer will shoot you

Because of the color of your skin.

God’s fear is a reverence,

A respect for the One who made us,

Who reforms us to acknowledging that black lives matter.

Who reforms us to understanding that racism is deep,

Too deep in our culture,

And we must change,

So we can call it good once more.

 

“Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural,

and in the same way also the men,

giving up natural intercourse with women,

were consumed with passion for one another.

Men committed shameless acts with men

and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.”

Shame? Unnatural?

Reformation has helped us see

The context of these WORDS

And the harm it has done.

No more shame.

No more hatred.

Just love

Love

Love.

And it was good.

 

“For you always have the poor with you,

and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish;

but you will not always have me.”

Open our eyes

Broaden our horizons,

To recognize that God is moving in us,

Then,

Now,

Always.

Never to ignore,

Or assume someone else will care for the poor,

But to be in ministry with

Rather than for,

And it was good.

 

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth;

I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Yet, he didn’t say

I’ve come to bring nuclear bombs

And AK47s

And weapons of mass destruction.

He didn’t say he came to kill.

The WORDS are not always how we interpret them,

For we remember

There will be a day

When swords will turn into plowshares.

And on that day,

It will be good.

On that day

When we can call it all good again

We will see the product of the reformation.

God’s work in us

Always shaping us

Always challenging us

Always reminding us

That God created us for good.

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For Such a Time as This

Fortunately, our time is different. We have progressed – evolved. We aren’t like those ignorant people who speak hate and bigotry…right?

Such words are not acceptable, or so we thought. They seem to have crept back into our vernacular. Common conversations tainted casually with words sharper than safety pins – pricking the fabric of our culture rather than holding it together.

Alas, we aren’t any further along than we thought. We merely have been hiding the hatred and disguising it. Now it is out in the open.

Timely words are necessary – words that speak love, courage, admitting privilege and acknowledging the change necessary in our world.

Ask: Is there anyone who will do this? Is anyone willing to speak up or speak out? What are the risks? What are the benefits?

This surely is the time. This surely is the place. We must be the people – because the road is ending and soon the can will be kicked off a cliff.

(Esther 4.14)

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Reformation

Words in motion,

Dancing on a page.

Letters and symbols,

Breaking out of their cage.

To be reformed,

To let God move within,

To realize that reading,

Was never a sin.

The deep understanding,

To have God touch your heart,

To experience the Holy One,

And be set apart.

The door continues,

To welcome and open,

The Spirit continues,

To challenge and deepen.

Setting the stage,

Not knowing the impact,

With one dissenting word,

So much has happened,

From a protest tacked,

Within a space,

For all to see,

For all to be lifted,

All to be free.

The Spirit continues,

To dance and expand,

Speaking to all people,

From every land.

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Writing Our Stories

Pumpkin lights flashing in the window. Goblins and ghouls dancing from the ceiling. Ghosts hanging from the wall. Acorns and crinkling leaves cover the ground. Carved pumpkins sit outside doors, rotting slowly. They start out looking like a ghoul, but eventually look more like the Crypt Keeper. The time of year for corn mazes and spooky trails and haunted houses has arrived. Warm beverages come back into style, even though many partake year round – tea, cider, coffee. The air is crisp and cold. Fall breaks the heat like an ice cube in a room temperature beverage – slowly, but surely. Greens and yellows become orange and brown. Surrounded by warm colors but feeling the nip of the air.

As I walk on campus among these sights new life has sprung up. The summer maintained a restful silence. The campus breathed like soil in the winter, resting and laying dormant until the next growing season. Now the music is blasting from dorms, Frisbee golf is in full swing, and there is a hum in the air.

At this time each year a walk takes me back to my own college days. As I smell the fried chicken being mass produced in the dining hall, I remember the highland chicken I happily devoured. I remember the anxiety of that first year, unsure if I would like my roommate or if I would do well in school. The following fall the smells of pine fresh cleaner in the dorms remained the same, but a confidence surrounded me – one year under my belt and I knew what to expect. The joy and love of college continued past graduation. Each fall, as I see the students arrive again, I reminisce with my college roommate about those days, and laugh about the ridiculous things we did in college.

This year, as students arrived, it felt different. Maybe it was the shift in weather – 80 degrees, down to 60, and back up to blazing hot weather. Maybe time has separated me enough. I’m celebrating a milestone from graduating this year – and college is no longer a recent memory. “Do you remember this?” my college roommate asks me, referencing a story. I scrunch my nose up and shake my head. Funny anecdotes are slipping away. Stories are disappearing.

We tell stories to keep them alive. When they aren’t told, we forget them, or they disappear with a generation. Some stories stick with us and we cannot forget them, even if we don’t tell them. Our lives are filled with stories – some told, some untold. We piece them together and sometimes we rewrite them – maybe we force an ending, or maybe we just delete pieces in our minds. Sometimes our stories don’t look the same to others. The stories we tell ourselves shape us. Are you the hero? Are you the antagonist? What other characters are present? Who keeps appearing in your story? Are there themes?

We spend our lives living the stories, but too often we focus on the past stories, or the future stories. We obsess over the parts in our stories that we can’t change. We worry about the future, we stress over the past. We neglect the present. When I read a book I love I sometimes start skimming parts because I just want to know how it ends. I miss some of the juicy conflict within the story. I miss the sweet reconciliation or the drama that enfolds in the book. The same is with our stories – that we must be present and focused on what is happening now, rather than the stories that could be or would have been. If I dwell on my own college days, I look past the leaves falling in front of me. We have a choice of leafing through pages or picking up a pen.

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It is What It is

And then my phone was hacked. I recognize I have started this entry with “and,” which my high school Language Arts teacher told me never to do (when did they stop calling it Language Arts? It has such a nice ring and makes writing sound beautiful and artistic). If I’m not supposed to begin a sentence with “and” I certainly shouldn’t begin a story with it – but I think you can probably understand what happened beforehand. You don’t need the details – you can glean from “and then…” that the day was already rather stress-filled and chaotic, and the last thing I needed was for my phone to be hacked.

Maybe hacked is a strong term. My phone company tried to explain it to me, but it was way over my head, so let’s go with “hacked.” The basic is that someone was texting others with my phone number – so that was enough to send me into a panic. I spent the afternoon on the phone with my phone company. The entire time I’m waiting in silence as they pull my text messages up, I’m thinking, “I searched online for the phone company’s number on my phone – what if the person who hacked my phone also hacked that number, and I’m talking to the hacker right now?? What if they are listening to me?? What if they know my favorite color??” (It’s orange by the way – you don’t have to hack my phone for that one). So, I spent the next hour on the phone, pacing back and forth, making a cheese quiche for dinner (because dinner still had to be cooked) and trying to do some work while I sat on the phone in silence. My heart raced the whole time and a million questions raced through my head.

Finally, I hung up the phone. I did what the phone company told me to do, but was informed it would take a few days to process and fix. The adrenaline in me finally slowed down and I just sat there, trying to figure out what to do next. An afternoon lost. My phone virtually useless until I could trust it again. “It is what it is,” I heard myself say as I sat down to my computer. I hate that phrase. It resolves nothing – it doesn’t make me feel better – it doesn’t comfort anyone. It states that the situation exists and we can’t do anything. Helpless. That was how I felt in that moment.

I’ve heard that phrase tossed around often. “It is what it is.” In fact, my mom used it the other day, looked at me and said, “That phrase really stinks, doesn’t it?” Except it truly embraces the moment. Sometimes we have to be able to vocalize that “yes, this is happening, and no – I can’t do anything about it, but I wish I could, so I’ll just talk about it.” “It is what it is.” This phrase also ends in a preposition or verb, which my Language Arts teacher told me never to do. I hope she’s not reading right now because she would be marking this screen up with red marker left, right, and sideways.

Maybe we need to state that “It is what it is,” but sometimes we also have to respond in some way. When we are able to react, what is it? This statement sounds so apathetic – that we can’t do anything, so we just don’t. In some cases it is true. In others, I think the statement is used as a way of excusing ourselves from doing anything. For example, natural disasters or tragedies – rather than looking at the television and going, “It is what it is,” we can try to help through whatever non-profit you trust. We can lobby politicians. We can use our voices to speak up.

As I think more about this statement, I look at how closely it resembles the great statement made in Exodus: “I AM who I AM.” It is the same phrasing, just different subject (thanks again, Language Arts teacher). What if every time we said “It is what it is” or heard it, we thought, “…and God is who God is – so what will I do in response?” Maybe it is as simple as, “It is what it is – and I’m not happy about it.”

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Shells, Stones, and the Spirit

I’ve always had an affinity for shells. I love collecting the unique, broken shells along the beach. Some arch beautifully like a tulip, while others shine elegantly in the sunlight. The shells tell a story – they mark the beach with character.

On a recent trip to Cape Cod I walked the beaches with hopes of increasing my shell collection. Each shell was almost perfect – not chipped, not cracked, all looking the same. Well, at least similar. They were beautiful shells, and for many shell collectors, these are the kind they want to adorn their shelves – whole shells that can hold jewelry or soaps. I loved them, but they lacked the originality I was seeking.

I noticed the rocks that washed up on the beach, and found what I was looking for in various smooth stones. Gray, orange, red, black. The colors were bold and deep, oozing so much with earth tones I could almost hear the rocks. Heart shaped, round, squarish. The shapes looked as if the ocean intentionally carved them to put on display in a museum. I had stumbled upon many rocks in my time – gray, cement-looking stones that were covered in dirt or clay – but none with such personality and depth.

While in Cape Cod, I had an experience that led me to pray on the beach and stack these stones up, one on top of the other (a story for another entry). I stacked them as I remembered the scripture of Jacob piling the rocks up to God after dreaming (Genesis 28.18). Those rocks were not only my prayer to God, but also marked a moment in my spiritual journey. This encouraged me to look deeper into the concept of rocks and the Bible, and I found many passages that portrayed individuals stacking stones as a way of memorializing a place of spiritual significance, or honoring a person, especially after death. We still do this today with headstones and cornerstones and rocks that offer historical data in our communities.

I started noticing stones more often – their size, shape, and placement in the world. While every rock doesn’t have significance, I began to see how some rocks were placed in a certain way, as if making a statement about the world, about life. Looking back on my own spiritual journey, I know that I have certain “markers” along the way that have been significant – my own stack of stones that have been left behind.

Flipping through a magazine recently I came across a stack of stones and the word “cairn.” I immediately looked it up and found that the word “cairn” was the Gaelic word for a pile of stones. I loved this, and decided the name my blog accordingly – a cairn in my spiritual journey. When I told my spouse, he said, “Cairns are like gravestones – why would you name your blog after a gravestone?” Touche. The cairns are more than that, though. Yes, they might honor a deceased person, but they also mark along the journey, like Jacob. So, I see this as a living cairn – that I learn these spiritual lessons, and be shaped by them, rather than being static. To be a “living stone” as it says in 2 Peter 2.4.

Sometimes we carefully place the rocks. Sometimes the waves wash them away. This only makes space for new stones, for new stacks, for new life.

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