Stolen Goods*

For the last couple Decembers, I’ve watched the ordinarily light traffic to my blog skyrocket. It isn’t that I get more interesting during Advent; one of my most recent posts was a humdrum complaint about insurance costs in my adopted state of California. I’m a run-of-the-mill blogger, writing for myself and for the small community of family and friends who at least pretend they like updates about my dog. But in 2005, two sermons I’d posted on any day a beautiful change were linked on Textweek, my favorite clearinghouse of materials for worship and preaching preparation. As the Advent and Christmas season rolls around, hundreds of preachers, teachers, and students-of-the-Word click over to read my words (or, as the case may be, scan and summarily dismiss them).

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Rumor Me This, Rumor Me That

The town was all a-twitter.  The gossip network was running full force.  The new pastor, they said, had a man staying in the parsonage.

He had been there over a week, visited the church, and met many of my parishioners before the rumors got back to me, of course.  I had only been ministering there a couple of months, and no one wanted to actually ask me about my "mysterious" guest.  I probably should’ve expected that there would be talk, but it just didn’t occur to me that my life was considered so scandal-worthy!  I’m a member of the coed dorm generation.  I also forgot that certain key factors wouldn’t be as obvious to everyone as they were to me.  “I don’t know if this will make it any better,” I sighed, when I finally caught wind of the gossip, “but he’s gay.”

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What Did She Just Say?

As the below true-life examples illustrate, I’ve been known
to let faux curse words slip in my sermons on more than one occasion:

“The disciples had been fishing all day, and they hadn’t caught anything whatsoever. They probably felt like crap.”

“You’re going to break your wedding vows. It might not be in a big, dramatic Grey’s Anatomy
kind of way, but you will break them. I mean, I love my husband Jeff,
but when I’m pissed at him for eating the leftovers I wanted for my own
dinner, I’m pretty sure I’m not cherishing him.”

“So if you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, ‘Well, great, I’m screwed,’ don’t worry; you’re not alone.”

words started making appearances on the smaller, more informal Wednesday night
service, when I was preaching without notes. I soon found myself saying these
kinds of things in my Sunday morning sermons to hundreds of people. I started
to ask myself why recently.

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Good Can Come

Another Wednesday night meant another class to teach.  Diving into the texts with the enthusiasm of a young child going for the baby in a King’s cake was how I wanted to spend my Wednesday nights.  When I arrived in Corinth, I wanted more than anything to share my find with others.  I wanted to see what treasures they had found.  I loved the rich conversations emerging from shared moments of clarity.  And now, it was Wednesday again and last week’s “ah-ha” moments were not as comforting.

Last week had been filled with blank stares.  The last few weeks had not been the stuff of comfort.  We had been studying the Pastoral Epistles with a companion study guide chosen before my arrival to Corinth. Wednesday night came to mean studying some of my least favorite parts of the Bible with study material that had never heard of different learning styles or this new fangled thing called “inclusive language.”  My all-around lack of excitement had been catching even to the most dedicated churchgoers (in other words, our older and more stalwart folks). 

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Reflections on Advent: A Way of Peace

As we move toward the already-and-not-yet of Advent, we celebrate Christ’s birth so long ago even as we know that Christ must be born in us again and again. Countless artists over the centuries have portrayed Advent themes and scenes; these block prints by Mary Allison Cates weave together the personal and the political with scenes of destruction and turmoil, juxtaposed with the image of a pregnant woman looking on as her child grows within her.

The quote from James Agee ties the images together: “In every child who is born, the potentiality of the human race is born again, and of each of us, our terrific responsibility toward life, and the utmost idea of God.”

According to the artist, “New life happens, even in the face of global warming, war, poverty, and interpersonal conflict. May our saving Lord Jesus Christ be born in us again this Advent season, so that we may respond to our broken world by creating a way of peace.”

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Taking Your Baby to Work

I am a pastor and am also a mother of two delightful girls.  Most days I can make those two professions work together pretty well, some days – not so much.  My main coping mechanisms are coffee and humor.  My main ally in this endeavor is my husband of 10 years.  We are fairly relaxed parents. You know the type: We are the ones whose toddler eats right off the floor, while not wearing any socks.  We are the ones whose six-year-old is wearing a pink paisley shirt, with a turquoise butterfly pattern skirt, pink polka dot socks and fancy fake high heels (‘high’ shoes is what we call them around here), despite the Wisconsin winter temperatures dipping into the low double digits.

This relaxed attitude about parenting has made my balancing act of life a little easier.  I think this attitude started when my first born began attending school with me.  I was a full-time student three and a half years into a four year M.Div. program when Meg was born (just in time to be baby Jesus in the Festival of Lessons and Carols). I took two weeks off completely and then finished the semester taking my exams and writing papers.  Since I couldn’t imagine taking the whole next semester off, when February rolled around and classes started, I popped Meg into a sling and off we went.  She slept and nursed and got passed around a lot.  I often left her in one person’s arms and returned later to find she was ten sets of arms down the row. 

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Six Degrees: A Homily and Prayer Litany for World AIDS Day

Six degrees of separation. Some of you may be familiar with this phrase from a movie with that title. Some of you may have played the “Six degrees of separation” game. The game challenges you to figure out if you are 6 degrees or less away from Kevin Bacon! This means you and Kevin are linked through friends . . . and friends of friends. So if you and Kevin were to compare lists of friends and acquaintances, before long you’d be connected: just a few people between you and Mr. Bacon himself. Kinda spooky.

We live in a world in which we are just six handshakes away from anyone else. Chances are that you don’t personally know any Australian police officers, the Chancellor of Germany, or a member of the English Parliament. But! Maybe you know someone whose cousin studied abroad in
Australia and had a run-in with the police. Or maybe you know a German professor here who knows someone who’s related to someone whose friend works for the German government. You get the idea. Basically, many believe that every person on the planet is separated from everyone else by a chain of about six people.

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It’s Not Too Late to Designate

Picture, if you will, a group of
buddies preparing to go out and raise a glass to celebrate the
holiday of your choice.  One of the more responsible friends asks,
“So, who’s going to be the designated driver?”  And
then…silence sweeps away the talking and laughter as each person
looks at the others, trying to decide whose turn it is to take on
this necessary holiday role.

Flip to a scene of Thanksgiving or
Christmas festivities with family and friends gathered around,
laughing and joking, preparing to finally chow down on turkey and
stuffing and pie, until one lone person raises the question: “So,
who’s going to say grace?”  And the entire room falls silent in an
attempt to de-volunteer.  Another holiday role emerges, less public
but just as valuable: the designated pray-er.

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The Gift of Gentleness

For twenty-five years, my Christmas Eves remained much the same from year to year.  My parents, siblings, assorted other relatives, and I would gather to consume a massive feast.  We would sing Christmas carols in harmony.  We would eat more food, and open piles of presents.  The house would be bright with colored lights and sparkling tinsel, and loud with laughter and music.  We would go to bed late and awake early for the opening of even more gifts, and of course more food.

My Christmas Eves are a little different these days.  I generally spend the day in front of my computer, finishing the sermon I’ll preach for the biggest crowd of the year.  No pressure, of course.  As my family digs into dinner, I pass candles around a church 1,500 miles away.  After leading the last worship service, I meander back to my dog and a darkened house – because I usually haven’t had time to hang up lights or other Christmas decorations during the rush of Advent; it’s a very good year if I manage a tree.  I heat up some leftovers, pour a glass of wine, pop in a movie, and collapse on the couch.  Then I wake up on Christmas Day and…go back to sleep as long as possible.

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Verve, Faith, Chocolate, and Really Great Shoes

You may have noticed that the Young Clergy Women Project, which publishes Fidelia’s Sisters, claims to be powered by “verve, faith, chocolate, and really great shoes.” Some have asked, “Why shoes?” Well, I can’t speak for all young clergy women. I can, however, speak for myself.

For a long time, in my mind, pointe shoes were the only shoes that
mattered. In high school, I tried brand after brand, make after make,
looking for something that would flatter my woefully flat arches. I
finally found Freeds of London.
I religiously ordered shoes from a particular cobbler, whose mark was
stamped on the bottom of my sole. That brand and make of shoes
accompanied me through hours of class, rehearsals, and performances. I
spent a lot of time breaking them in and keeping them in good shape.
They transformed me into Sleeping Beauty; they turned me into the Dew
Drop Fairy. They were my most important material possession. Oddly, my
attitude towards all other shoes was as indifferent as my attitude
towards pointe shoes was obsessive. In high school and college, I wore
the same old school vans day in and day out (Hey, it was the 90s; don’t
judge me). The object was comfort and little else.

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