All of It

I have not reflected theologically in quite some time. Most of the theological structures that I had in place failed me magnificently over the past 2 years. I prayed a lot. I begged for revelations, affirmations, and prophesies, none of which came.

So I am reevaluting everything. All of it. Everything involving faith and spirituality. I am starting completely over at the basics and trying to unlearn my expectations and assumptions. I am not trying to force myself to fit into any systematic theology; I am letting it all fall into place slowly, organically.

So this is my second deconstruction. I went through my first during my freshman and sophomore years of college when I left my fundamentalist upbringing.

That was a decade ago! And I thought I was lucky because I got my great deconstruction done early in my life. But no. A surprise round 2 is upon me.

Something I was able to really feel and celebrate soon after my first deconstruction was how holy everything around me was. I was experiencing so many things in my college years, and it all felt sacred. Late nights with friends. Laughter. The music we made in choir. The plays and musicals we performed in theatre. The theological study I was engaging. Traveling to another country. Chapel services. Conversations in the dining hall. The songs of the crickets and the frogs at night. The way we all took care of each other in our dorm rooms when tornados were touching down nearby. It felt like the Divine was everywhere! The whole earth was full of glory. All of it.

Of course, over time this bliss has faded. I experienced hardship the year after I graduated college. Then in seminary I worked extremely hard and was focused on success. I had beautiful spiritual moments there as well, but I was pressured to follow a ministry path that didn’t fit me at all and pressured to conform to a particular theological framework to satisfy my ministry requirements. I lost a lot of essential parts of myself. I thought I had to sacrifice them to do the right thing of being faithful to seminary and ministry.

This was all bound to fail. In college I was allowed to be fully myself, for the first time ever. In ministry and in seminary I went back to being what others wanted me to be in line with a particular religious ideal.

Now I see that a second deconstruction was inevitable.

As I am reclaiming the parts of myself that were forced to be dormant, I have realized that some of the ideas I had after my first deconstruction are coming back to me.

I am wrtiting and putting my art in the world. That is holy and sacred. The great blue heron I saw a week ago while I was alone in the woods near the lake was a holy moment. The butterfly that grazes my face, the old man sitting on the park bench excitedly describing all the birds he has seen around the lake, the dog that approaches me for a pat and walks with me for a while, the choir I sing in, laughing with coworkers, these moments, this world is full of the Divine. All of it.

Published Sermons!

I am sharing to let everyone know that I have published a book of sermons! “Who May Dwell on Your Holy Hill?” is the first in what I hope to be a long, fruitful, life-giving career in writing and publishing. For anyone who has enjoyed my blogs, I think you will enjoy my sermons as well. They can be used for devotionals (they aren’t too long!) or for other preachers looking for sermon illustrations or for anyone who simply enjoys scripture, theological reflection, and stories. And please feel free to share with your friends! You can order my book here:

Parson’s Porch

Maundy Thursday

Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

On Maundy Thursday we think about the Last Supper and Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. The Gospel of John is the text for today alongside of this Exodus passage. According to John the last supper wasn’t exactly a Passover meal, but just before the festival of Passover. So let us look at what is happening before the Passover is instituted and what the time before Passover might indicate.

God was about to change the lives of the Israelites who’d been enslaved for hundreds of years. God was going to pass through the land, claiming the lives of the firstborn in Egypt. This would be the breakthrough to liberate God’s people, and they had to be ready to move. Loins girded, sandals strapped, staff in hand, eat and run. It’s a time of anticipation, preparation, obedience, action, and trust in God. A new day, a new life, a new era is coming, and this time before Passover is the time to get ready.

In this time now, just before Passover, Jesus is gathering his friends and preparing them for his departure. Jesus girds himself with a towel. Instead of having the disciples have their sandals on, they are taken off so Jesus can wash their feet. They’re not on the run, but instead sit together with Jesus as he gives final thoughts and teachings. It’s a time of confusion, tension, and betrayal. A new day, a new life, and a new era is coming, and this time before Passover is the time to get ready.

On Maundy Thursday when we celebrate community meals, foot washing, and communion, let’s lean into this sacred time before the big event, the big holiday. In this moment let us prepare for what God is about to do in our lives, in our communities, in our churches, and in the world. Let us be vigilant to the movement of the Holy Spirit who might ask us to do weird, unprecedented things like putting lamb’s blood on the doorpost, or bending to wash feet. What seems strange now may be made clear soon. Take a breath in this uncomfortable pause to take a leap of faith and trust that something new is around the corner.

When You’re Stuck

I am waiting on news. And decisions. And opportunities. And emails. And phone calls. And for this cough to go away.

In the mean time, my mind is tapped out. I’m struggling to journal, to read, to write, to create. I have projects in the works that have come to a stand still.

I can’t move forward. I am stuck.

I have had all these plans that I do not have the mental capacity to complete at the moment. I have a stack of books that I don’t have the energy to read.

To take a scripture out of context:

Isaiah 40:31

but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
    they shall walk and not faint. 

 

In Sunday school this past Sunday we talked about the word “hope” in scripture. Yakhal “to wait”, or Qavah “to wait with tension” in Hebrew. Waiting or tense expectations. Elpis in Greek. Hoping in scripture means waiting for God, sometimes expectation with tension and anticipation, and waiting with hope based on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Often this means there’s nothing to indicate that things will get better, but choosing to wait for God to act and move anyway. We learned this from a great resource:  The Bible Project “Hope”

Hope is waiting for God to act without any evidence that circumstances will improve. Now to put the scripture back into context:

Isaiah 40:1-2, 6-11, 21-23, 28-31

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.
Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”
See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in;
who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

God’s people had been exiled by Babylon, and this is the first message of hope in what is known as Second Isaiah. This is the transitional portion of the book of Isaiah when the end of the exile is near and the prophetic message is one of a brighter future. After such misery and suffering in exile, the people of Israel felt defeated and perhaps forgotten. But the prophet’s job was to speak God’s words of judgement, followed by renewal, forgiveness and restoration. They had endured the judgment, but restoration was coming. There was a political shift occurring, and this created unease as it always does. There’s no way to know if things would get worse, or if things could possibly be worse than they were. But the prophet was bringing a message of hope, of waiting with tense expectation, that the everlasting God was moving and had not forgotten them. It didn’t look good right then in that moment, but the prophet was inviting them to just wait and see what God would do.

round analog clock
Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

There are no revelations happening to me right now to help inspire me, move me forward, and break out of my slump. I keep looking, praying, and waiting.

Maybe you’re waiting for something, too. Maybe you need a word or a message, but there aren’t any prophets appearing in your wilderness. I’m right there with you.

I will choose to hope and to wait. There’s no evidence pointing toward a clear path to a brighter future. But I’ll lean into the expectation that God renews those that wait.

The Girl I Was

“Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” -C.S. Lewis

As an avid reader I have always had a vivid imagination. I loved reading fantasy and horror, any type of fiction that took me to a different world or a different time.

As a kid, I wrote short stories, plays, and poems. I would read my writings aloud in class and sometimes to other classes during their library time. I performed my little plays, which ended up getting me scholarships to acting camps and began my love for theatre.

The majority of my poems were about dolphins, the sea, stars, and the moon. I was obsessed with the ocean at night. Throughout middle school my bedroom was under water themed. This was my magical world.

I remembering strongly identifying with Anne of Green Gables. I loved that she was a redhead like me, that she had a wild imagination, that she was a reader and writer, and that she was emotional and dramatic. I read about Anne as a child, and then she sort of faded in my memory.

I watched the LOTR movies throughout middle school and high school. I lost count after watching them all the way through 20 times. I just couldn’t keep up anymore. I wanted a grand adventure in Middle Earth more than anything!

Like most adults, I have lost a lot of the magic I had as a kid. Even though I’ve kept some of my wonder and glee for beautiful things, I lost the mystery and the slight hope other worlds exist somewhere over the rainbow, in a time wrinkle, or through a wardrobe. I’ve hated that I have lost this about myself. Not that I want to believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy as a grown woman, but that I can use my imagination to make reality a little more magical.

In January I began watching “Anne with an E” on Netflix. A number of people had complained that it was “too dark” when the book series had been comedic and lighthearted, but I had experienced it completely differently. I was re-introduced to Anne who used her imagination to tell wild stories, was too verbose for her own good, and embraced the wonder of the world around her. I cried while watching the series, remembering the parts of myself that had long been forgotten.

Not long after, I interviewed at my current church. I remember sitting outside, overwhelmed with the job offer in front of me. I had a life-changing, weighty choice sitting in my lap. While I processed what was happening and where my future was headed, I sat on a balcony in the dark that overlooked the ocean. I could see the stars and the white caps of the breaking waves. I remembered the part of me that was entranced by the sea at night. I couldn’t help but smile, as a faint heartbeat as my former self came to life. A cloud floated into view that looked very much like a dragon in flight. I was glad to know that my imagination wasn’t completely dead after all.

Tonight Andy and I walked under the full moon by the ocean. Ever since we moved here to Florida I have called jokingly called myself “pastor mermaid.” I told Andy that tonight was the night: under the full moon I would finally transform into the mermaid I was meant to be, and that he should come with me so we could rule the ocean together. We chased each other in the waves and giggled together. Andy told me that he only believes I am half joking when I talk about going to be a mermaid in the sea, and that he believes there’s a part of me that believes in the fantasy.

I’ve had a lot of hope, joy, peace, and imagination beaten out of me by life. I struggle with anxiety and depression. Life is hard. There is so much evil. It is such a dark place here. And I am supposed to preach about the hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But imagination gives me hope. If I can recover parts of the girl I was, maybe some of the magic can return to my reality. Fantasy reflects the hope of the reality of a just and peaceful world, full of wonder and delight, with endless joy. This renews my hope in the Kingdom here, and Kingdom come.

Graduation

Seminary is by far the hardest thing I’ve done so far in my life. I remember getting to the end of my first year, looking at other seminaries and even other master’s programs to seek other career options, trying not to freak out over the fact that I still had 3 whole years left. I thought graduation day would never come.33027122_10216841036200720_246261471858655232_n

Some people come to seminary for only 1-2 years. Many come for 3 years for the MDiv program. I chose Dual Degree, which combined the 2 year MAPT program with the 3 year MDiv program, for a total of 4 years at CTS. It was daunting to think that I would be here so much longer than many of my peers.

After the halfway mark of finishing two years, I finally made peace with four years. Around that time there was a shift in the social atmosphere at CTS. Exclusivity and power-cliques were being called out, and more people were stepping out of their exclusive groups to promote inclusivity. I started to finally feel at home at CTS. Graduation was still far off, but I didn’t mind so much.

At the end of my third year, I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was sad to see so many of my peers graduate. Many of them had been with me through my entire seminary career up until this point. But I looked around and noticed that there were so many of us who had chosen the two-degree, four-year program. We were sticking it out together. And the majority of my friends were in the class that had entered seminary the year after me. I knew that I was going to be fine.

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I overloaded a few semesters so that my final year would be lower stress. After hours of Hebrew and Greek keeping me up late, after an especially tough semester when I wrote about 80 pages in 3 months, after struggling through and passing my ordination exams, I had a lighter load my final year. I interned at two small rural churches, I interned at the Outreach and Advocacy Center in downtown Atlanta working with people experiencing homelessness, and I took numerous electives. I enjoyed my work and I enjoyed my classes. It was a relief to take a breath during this last year and just enjoy the last months of my seminary education. It also freed me up to interview at churches to find a job for after graduation.

I was so excited for graduation day, counting down the days. People would approach me through the year and ask how many days we had left! At long last, I knew graduation was coming. But I also enjoyed my time. I took pleasure in my classes, my friends, the campus community, and all of the “lasts” (last dinners, lunches, meetings.) I wanted to savor the moments, not wish them away, as I looked forward.

I dreamed about graduation day for four years. The actual day was even more exciting and even more joyful than I had imagined. My husband, my mom, my grandmother, and my aunt came to cheer me on. They were all filled with joy, and all told me how proud they were of me. It made my heart so warm to hear these words.

My friends and I all laughed, took pictures, and cheered so loudly for each other when we accepted our diplomas. We were like giddy children. No matter how long we had been in seminary, 1 year or 4 years or somewhere in between, we had worked so hard for this day. Our communities were proud of us. And we were proud of ourselves!

I was surprised by winning two awards on top of my two degrees! I won the “Indiantown Country Church Award” for my work I did in the rural churches last summer. I also won the “William Rivers Waddey Award” for my work with youth ministry and my continued work with youth once I graduate. I was nominated by the faculty to receive these awards, and I had no idea I would be receiving them.

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I am filled with joy and gratefulness. I am grateful for the CTS faculty and staff, my mentors, pastors, and supervisors, my friends and family, my church, and my husband. Without this support I wouldn’t have been able to make it. I’m also a little sad. Goodbyes aren’t easy. But it’s ok that I’m sad. I’m glad CTS became a place that I am sad to leave.

God has reminded me that this call isn’t about me. God poured out the Spirit to calm me when I wanted to run. The Spirit whispered, “Just show up” when I was overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do. And I did. I just kept showing up, even if I didn’t know why. I wouldn’t be here without God’s guiding hand. Praise God for goodness, guidance, and peace. I struggled. I didn’t always have peace. I just remained as faithful as I could, and God’s grace did the rest.