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My heart beats for love. I want to be different. I want to be who I am called to be. WORTHY and LOVED!

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Thursday, October 1, 2015

Life Lessons Learned in Airports

   Normally, I enjoy flying. My body doesn't particularly like long car trips, so flying offers an alternative. Plus, I've also thought it better to just go with the flow instead of stressing out with travel. However, days like today, days when storms are on the way, remind me of the different things that airports have to teach us, with clear sky or pending hurricanes.
   First, pack light. The less you have, the more quickly you can change your plans. A few years ago there was a bit of an uproar when companies started to charge for you to check bags, but I found it freeing. It encouraged me to pack light and not take extra things I really don't need. Thought I will also be the first to admit that it is hard for me to do more than a week on one carry on and one personal item alone. Today that came in handy when I was able to run through the security line in order to catch the only other flight leaving Atlanta towards my destination outside of the last one of the evening, which was already threatening delays.
   Second, in your packing bring something to entertain yourself during long periods of waiting. Personally, I like podcasts and books, both of which satisfy my deep curiosity. I was telling my roommate at the conference I attended, that times of travel afford me the opportunity to not only read more, but to have more time to think about what I'm reading as well. I see travel as a gift, in this regard, more than a burden.
   Third, always be willing to help other people out. Flying home, there is a part of the terminal in Washington-Dullus, where it is designed for 4 planes to board pretty close to one another, which can result in confusion. We are all in the ins and outs of travel together. Help someone out. Offer a kind word or smile. Defuse frustration.

As for now, I'm exhausted after a few long, but wonderful days. More on this topic to come.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

“Stories of the Faith: Wrestling with Angels” Gen 32: 22-30

To date, the Bible is the most often republished and best selling book in the world. I think its because we have the greatest story to tell - the story of redemption and grace, yet many Christians have a hard time defining what they believe. They have a hard time telling how the story of God, as present in the Bible, intersects with their faith story. So for the next several months we are going to study some of the stories of the faith that meet our own personal faith journeys. In fact, despite what you may have been told the best tool you have for evangelism isn’t a picture, or knowing the four steps to salvation, but your own story. Because stories matter. 
Today we have gathered together to explore the story of Jacob - the patriarch of Israel. But before we can speak about his experience of wrestling with God, we need to know some of his back story. Just like our stories, which can be told as single moments in time, they become so much richer when woven into the tapestry of our history, both personal and communal. 
Jacob was one of the twins who were born to Rebekah and Isaac. We aren’t told much about Isaac after he was taken to be sacrificed by his father Abraham. All we know is that Isaac returned with his half brother Ishmael to Abraham’s grave upon his death. We also know that Isaac committed some of the same faux-pauxs as his father, trying to give his wife Rebekah away at one point when in a foreign land just to save his own skin. Beyond that Isaac is not spoken of much until the birth of his sons, Esau, or hairy one, and Jacob. 
Esau was well loved by his father. A strong hunter, he would often bring game back to be cooked and served to his father who could no longer hunt on his own. In contract, his twin, Jacob, like to cook and stay behind in camp with the women. While Esau was certainly Isaacs favorite, Jacob had a special place in Rebekah’s heart. And while Esau excelled at hunting in his early days, Jacob seemed to specialize in trickery. He tricked his twin out of both his birthright and his blessing, leading for Jacob to be chased out of his homeland to his Uncle Laban’s. 
If anyone was a match for Jacob in terms of trickery it was his uncle. Laban intentionally gave him the wrong daughter in marriage. In return, Jacob ran a scheme with his Uncle’s sheep.  Then his Uncle chased after him when he was leaving town with his 11 sons at this point, 4 wives, and daughter, in order to relocate his home, thinking that Jacob stole his family idol. 
Enter the story xfwhere we find ourselves this morning. Jacob is moving his tribe. He was troubled because he was returning to his home land but it isn’t really home anymore. His mother, the one who loved him best, is long deceased. His relationship with his brother is strained at best, murderous at worse. So he send the women and children ahead of him, and he stayed behind as they forged across the river. During the night a man, whom we often identify as an angel, comes and wrestles with Jacob until daybreak. Back and forth they went, but Jacob would not let go, even as dawn was breaking, until the man blessed him. 
Years ago, Bill Moyers did a series of interviews with religious scholars and leaders based on the book of Genesis. I love how Moyers panel describes the book of Genesis, “The stories of Genesis are about a life in the making”. This was certainly true of Jacob. The story of Genesis is the story of his life in the making, as he sheds his ways of trickery, and claimed life for an entire nation. 
Yet, having a life in the making is hard work. At this point in the story Jacob has received word that Esau wants to make peace, wants to set aside all of the ill feelings between them in order to start anew, and Jacob just can’t believe him. So he sends his clan on to face the brother he feared while he stayed behind in the darkness of night.
Remember that night time was a time of vulnerability in this culture. You wanted to have your people and animals around to protect you from other animals and robbers. You wanted the safety of numbers, yet it is exactly during this vulnerable moment that Jacob wrestled with an angel. 
What about you? Have you ever wrestled with God? I doubt that you have physically have wrestled with God, but you probably have emotionally and spiritually wrestled with the Creator.
A good friend once described this passage of scripture to me by asking if I would wrestle with a Sumo – Wrestler. He took my laughter to be the obvious response. Here I am a petite girl, there is no possible way that I am going to beat a skilled Sumo-wrestler, much larger then me. So why would Jacob wrestle God, knowing that it would be worse than a Sumo-Wrestler taking on little Michelle. And an even better question is why did God let Jacob win? This is not a fairly matched fight, folks, God had the power to crush Jacob, but chose not to.  Instead, this episode of wrestling went on until daybreak. Until that season and sense of vulnerability lifted, and Jacob demanded a blessing before he would let go. Before he would give up. And the blessing he received? A change in name. 
Now we don’t exactly know what Jacob was expecting or asking for when it came to a blessing. But I doubt that he was looking for a whole new identity. For a name signifies not only who we are, but our past. Our baggage. And it points us towards the future. Jacob may have been looking for a blessing that bought into the myth that blessing means everything is perfect, but instead he was given the gift of a new start. Not a perfect new start. But a new beginning. A new future, if he so wishes. 
Could Jacob have received a better blessing? For as Christian author once wrote, “In the ancient Near East your name was more than just words. Name was identity. Your name was reflective of your character, your substance, the very fiber that made you, you. Your name told who you are.”. And he isn’t the only one who God blesses by changing their name. Abram became Abraham and Sari became Sarah and Saul became Paul, just to name a few. God took the identity of who they were, how the world defined them, and banished it. It is like God whipped the slate clean by saying “No, you think this is who you are, but really THIS is who I created you to be.” Do you see the beauty in that? God wants us to see ourselves through his eyes, the only eyes that really matter for anything in the end. 
Our name and our purpose are unique. We are not called to do what Israel, Abraham, or Paul did. We are called to do what we were made to do. Somewhere along the way the church has confused this message and we get the idea that God wants us all to be the same. To look the same, act the same, but at that point we might as well be the same person with the same name. And that is NOT how we are identified by God. I think this idea probably came from a misreading of what Paul meant when he tells us to lose our identity in Christ. We have tried to make that into a strict set of dos and don’ts in order to become Christ like. For example: read your Bible x number of hours a day. And it’s not that reading the Bible is a bad thing, but through our relationship with Christ, God defines who we were created to be. God wants to work with the personality God gave us to save the world. He wants you to fully live out who you were created to be in order to serve God. 

So may you be reminded who you are, by your creator, God almighty. May you come to wrestle with God and be blessed through him bestowing your new identity on you. And may you live out that identity fully, letting your unique story be written as a reflection of your name. Amen. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


    What is hospitality? That is the question that has been bouncing around my mind the last few days. I have some pretty odd and pronounced food allergies - chiefly an allergy to meat products due to a lack of digestive enzymes. Generally, folks have been very accommodating around my issues, and over the years I've been able to clearly articulate my needs.
   This past week I received an email from a group putting on a mandatory meeting I had to go to that they could not meet my needs, or the special needs of others, and keep the food under their budget. It didn't sit very well with me. When I was talking to some friends about it they remarked that I was reacting to the lack of hospitality. Yet other colleagues thought it was very hospitable to tell me, at least, that they could not accommodate me.
    Hospitality has become a buzz word in churches the last few years  -but the problem is that very few churches actually do it well. For hospitality goes beyond having a table or greeters - its going out of your way to meet the needs of others. Hospitality is an act of sacrifice, not convince. And it comes at a cost. What would the world look like if we extended hospitality not as a profunctorary sign, but ratter as a mark of respect? And for Christians, what if we treated each other with the hospitality that we would extend to our Risen Lord?

The Danger of Comparison

   It seems that we live in a day and age when we are always comparing ourselves to others. Or if we live long enough, comparing how it was to how it is.
   Today I was blessed to be at two meetings with colleagues. As a colleague was thanking for organizing one of the meetings for young clergy, I started to share with him my vision for the annual conference, that we would be a place where our young clergy seize opportunities to be the best leaders we can be. That we be a place where we can admit that we don't have all the answers and seek to find them from the best and brightest. And that very much is my vision, along with creating a place (and here is the comparison) like other annual conferences, where the first appointment is seen as being crucial, where we create opportunities for advanced continuing education (fully funded) for young clergy who often have different financial constraints, where we create long term mentoring relationships beyond what is required by BOOM, where we think about how to help pastors fund DMins, and we resource one another. I am the first to admit that it is a huge dream.
    But when you look at that dream, my biggest fear is not that it won't be meant, but instead that it will convey the incorrect message that our annual conference isn't doing anything, which is far from true. We learned today that we are one of two annual conferences with a deeply spiritual way of approaching appointments -which takes longer, but is continually bathed in prayer. That's amazing!
   The danger in comparing is that we often don't know everything good about ourselves that is being compared to in other areas. We don't know the behind the scenes workings-  which often leads us to be pessimistic or jaded.
   At Spring Awakening this past weekend, there were some pretty opinionated people sitting behind me. At first when the cast came out onto stage 10 minutes before curtain they were really excited, thinking it was a pre-show. But instead, they got dressed in their costumes right on stage (they already had the bottom layer of clothing on so they could just slip on the top layer) from a rack full of clothing located on stage. They stretched and warmed up on stage. And the folks behind me weren't happy, saying it took the mystery out of the show when they do that.
   Which is true. But maybe the mystery needs to be gone, not only in that particular instances but in life. Maybe we need to start sharing again and again the things we assume that everyone knows, which need to be celebrated. Maybe we need an accurate view of ourselves before we go comparing ourselves to others.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

"Old Fashioned"

   Today in church we had a wonderful musical group perform. They certainly have a powerful ministry, but two of the songs gave me pause.
  The first sang about being saved at an "old fashioned" prayer meeting. I almost actually laughed out loud, but contained myself. Oh how quickly that which we now uphold as being right and true because it is "old fashioned" was actual considered incredible radical at the time. I think about the same thing whenever I hear about "old fashioned" family values. Those family values, which we now uphold as timeless, actually didn't emerge until after World War 2, as a response to creating a new normal. I'm not actually so certain that anything is truly "old fashioned"is timeless, for such movements are responses to what is happening in society at a given time, and thus are usually considered quite radical.
   The second song told the story of being in Heaven and having mom and dad round the bend and welcome you to Heaven. That idea made me extremely uncomfortable. Not for myself, I have two wonderful, loving, Christian parents, but I just kept thinking about everyone in my life who doesn't experience that as their norm. I am well aware that I am in the minority having two parents, who still live together. What about the families I love where there are two dads or two moms? Or those where one or another of the parents left, never to be seen again? Or those who are in messy divorces, even years later? Or those, who one or both parents were abusive?
   Sometimes I struggle with songs like this , because they try to take the song writer's experience and extrapolate it into a normative experience, where that just isn't true for so many in this world. And how many times when we use our experiences as normative, do we actually end up hurting other people or turning them off to the faith.
   My denomination  for a period of time had the tag line: "Open hearts, open minds, open doors" - but I wonder if that's really true. Do we open up  our hearts in order to be radical in today's society instead of looking at days gone by? And  do we open up our minds to realize that our experiences, when made to seem normative , actually can hurt other people? And is our door truly open, or only if you are like us in experience, thought, and dress?

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Spring Awakening

  On my phone I have a list of different Broadway plays that I want to see. I think to date I've seen somewhere around 25, but this past weekend I was able to see one that has been on my bucket list for a while, Spring Awakening.
  For those who are not aware, Spring Awakening is actually an American adaptation of a German Play entitled the Awakening of Spring written in 1891. What I find so remarkable about this particular play is that it focuses on all the taboo topics that could not be discussed during that particular time period - sex, abortion, child rape, incest, suicide, homosexuality, etc. And you know what? All those same things we feel uncomfortable talking about in any detail still today, over 100 years later. Wedekind's premise in the play seems to be that by not talking about these topics and others, for fear of them not understanding or being too young, we are actually causing them more harm.
  However, I was unaware that this particular production of Spring Awakening was extra special. While in line, I noticed a woman off to my right video chatting with someone through ASL. When I was seated inside, a special insert in the program explained that this limited 18 week production of Spring Awakening was being done in both spoken English and ASL. And it was phenomenal. Additionally, one of the women performed from a wheelchair.
  The entire production hit home something that I had been struggling with for the last few weeks in Bible Study - the assumption that some Christians present that anyone who is differently-abled needs to be healed. Or should want to be healed. I am firmly not in that camp, so much so that sometimes the discussion around healing can make me uncomfortable, with the underlying assumption that people need to be healed in order to be used by God. Yet, here was an entire production strongly making the point that healing is subjective.
   I'm sure the all spoken/ sung English production of Spring Awakening, which closed in 2009, was good. But this production was amazing. Not only in its discussion of taboo topics, but it made each person attending face their underlying assumptions about sexuality, sex-education, and what it means to be a sexual being.
  For me, I also kept thinking about the quote from ABCFamily's show Switched at Birth a few weeks ago. One of the actors shared with one of the actresses, who was date-raped, that he too had been sexually assaulted as a child by a family friend who assumed because he was deaf he wouldn't tell anyone. We live in a world that seems to unfairly equate being differently-abled with being weak or being someone else's to abuse, or sometimes even begin un-sexual so sexuality does not need to be discussed. But shame on us. Because being differently-abled does not mean being of lesser worth.
   I also, kept thinking about a statistic that was released in the county I was serving back in 2011. The statistic was about an uptick in STIs present in elementary school students. Let that sink in for a moment - elementary school students. Let that sink in for a moment. Either we are holding sex ed off for so long in school that by the time we get around to it, kids are already experimenting without filly knowing what it is, or kids are being assaulted and don't know that its wrong or who to tell. Either way, shame on us for that as well.
   Seminary professor, Kate Ott, wrote a book about how to speak to your children from birth to adolescents about sex and sexuality. While I don't agree with everything in the book, I think the premise is correct. We need to start to figure out a way to talk to our kids about the tough things. So that they are protected - because not talking is certainly not working. There seems to be this misnomer that if we discuss things like healthy sex lives, mental health, and being pro life AND pro choice, that we will cause an epidemic of kids trying new things. I'm more afraid that not talking to kid will cause more experimentation then actually talking in age level appropriate discussions.
   We have some really hard conversations that we need to undertake as a society - some around tough  topics, that aren't going away any time soon, as an adaptation of a play from 1891 teaches us, and what it means and what it doesn't mean to be differently abled or abled bodied which this particular production brought out.

Three Part Birthdays

   It was my birthday last Sunday - 29. I've been using the time surrounding my birthday to really think - think about past birthdays, think about where I've been the past year, and dream about where I want to be.
   This past year has been hard. There were struggles at my appointment, almost immediately occurring after July 1, the start of a new year together. I had a lot of health struggles, that took almost six months to diagnosis. In short, 28 was not necessarily a good year. But 28 was also a learning year, really discovering the power of family, especially after taking an appointment closer to home starting in 2015 and also discovering what it truly means to be a friend.
   When I look at 29, I see a lot of possibilities that excite me. Opportunities that are opening up in the community I work in. Meeting new people and dreaming new dreams. I want to carry what I learned from 28, about self-care and self-worth and pacing, into 29.
   This year my birthday celebration, on top of being reflective, has also been pretty standard. There was one part where I was able to celebrate with my family. One part where I traveled to celebrate with a dear friend. And another part that was filled with people who didn't notice, which is okay. In so many ways birthdays are both like every other day and are special as well. What are your favorite birthday traditions and ways to reflect on time?