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Learning to say “Yes, And…”: A review of God, Improv, and the Art of Living

I still remember that gathering in a hotel meeting room in Kansas City. The NEXTChuch conference had just ended, and a group of pastors gathered to learn about Improv and how it could impact our ministries. Our speaker was snowed into her hometown, and the leaders began to change their plan. Yes, we were going to improvise a 24-hour workshop on improvisation. Throughout our sessions, as we played and then debriefed, I kept asking for the rulebook, the place where I could read about what we were doing to understand it better. MaryAnn McKibben Dana was one of those facilitators, and she very patiently kept reminding me that she was in the process of writing the book for which I hungered.

When I finished reading the book, it took all I had not to race to the internet and preorder copies for all of my clergy colleagues and church leaders. It was this paragraph that held the book together for me and helped me pivot from “principles of improv” to “heres what it means”:

“The truth is, were not in control of our lives, and the unforeseen happens. Plans fall through. People get sick. Marriages end. The plant closes down. Loved ones die. Our job as improvisers is to use our resources to put together a life in the wake of these things – maybe not the life we had planned, but a good life, a life with dignity, fashioned out of whats on hand.” (p. 119)

How much of ministry, how much of life really, is using our resources to fashion meaning out of what may appear to be chaos? The book is filled with examples of how this happens in workshops, on stage, and in the church. The way this works for those who look at life through an improv lens is saying “yes, and…” This is the key theme in McKibben Danas book. When we say “yes,” we accept the reality of what has been given to us. Be it the character to include in a skit, the terminal diagnosis, the relocation for a job, the burnt breakfast or any other number of circumstances we cannot change, the basics of improv include saying “yes” to the reality in front of us. Read more

The Art of Worship Planning

Church of the Pilgrims Advent wreath 2010

Several years ago my colleague, Jeff Krehbiel, went on a three-month sabbatical. While Jeff was gone, Pilgrims wanted to have their own enriching three-month experience. We created a sabbatical planning team to plan not just congregational endeavors but worship. Together, we explored the lectionary texts, the meaning of sabbatical, and came up with the theme of “connections and clarity” for the sabbatical season. All of these elements came alive in worship during the sabbatical. While still maintaining our loyalty to the Reformed Order of Worship, our planning process opened up our imagination, courage, and curiosity to what is possible. We sang new songs, congregants told stories on connections and clarity, we created more spontaneous moments of sharing, and we explored new ways of engaging with each other during worship.

Our planning process paid off and we were hooked. Read more

Confessions of a Former “Most Talented”

After six years of lessons, all I can conjure up are bits of Beethoven’s Fur Elise and Bryan Adams’ Everything I Do (I Do It For You) when I sit down at the piano. I associate my sketch of marbles reflected in a pocket mirror more with punching the boy next to me for laughing that I had “chicken legs” than with the middle school art show second place ribbon it garnered. I can sing in a surprisingly loud, mostly on key alto, but good projection is only that. My poetry, well, it sucks so hard that I’ve destroyed everything I’ve tried to write for the past decade.

And then there’s dance. Well, to be more accurate, there was dance.

When I was a toddler, I begged my mom to let me take dance lessons. Convinced that my older sister had begun too soon, she wouldn’t let me start until I was in first grade. I still question my mom’s logic, but the fact is that m y dancing years still outweigh my non-dancing years about two to one.

Over the years, I took tap, jazz, ballet, and modern. During high school, I focused on ballet. I spent hours and hours at the studio. I lived and breathed The Nutcracker, Les Sylphides, Coppelia, Cinderella, The Sleeping Beauty (pictured here, with me downstage). Significant portions of my summers were spent at various dance “camps,” for lack of a better word. Though I stopped performing after high school, I continued to take modern and ballet classes while I was in undergrad and in graduate school. Read more

The Feast of Pentecost

Pentecost

Wind’s swift burst,
fire flames lapping heat
lifted us from dejection.
Powerful spirit penetration
brought resurrection, renewal.
God’s breath poured, filled,
gifting second life
from our birthing cries.

Hope-crazed, we spoke
to street strangers
clacking sounds from other lands,
meeting stares and glares
from doubters of our celebration.

Together in place as one
transformed body of believers.
Had we not gathered there,
we would grow old
without our dreams,
be young with no grand visions,
living as before –
captives of dread and fear
each one

alone…

Discernment

Part of the interview process for my new congregation involved leading a worship service for the search committee. I was spinning my wheels about what to do until three ideas arrived to save the day.

The first was from a friend who encouraged me to use the daily lectionary instead of picking a scripture on my own. That was insanely good advice, as the daily lectionary text ended up being perfect – though one I would have never selected of my own volition.

The second idea was to write an original hymn, which I did, to the tune of Come, Thou Fount.

Hymn of Discernment

Congregations are the vessels where Christ’s presence can be known.
Here the gift of incarnation perseveres in flesh and bone.
We together are his body, head and shoulders, knees and toes.
Laughing, loving, always serving, praising God, forgiving foes.

In the church, you call forth servants to be preachers of the Word.
Ordinary souls responding to the still small voice they heard,
Saying, Go, and serve my people. Tend their wounds and help them see
that the love of God is endless as the vast and salty sea.

Holy Spirit, we have gathered in this place to find our way.
Telling stories, casting visions, seeking guidance as we pray.
Calm our nerves, dispel our worries, send us forth in clarity.
Let our practice of discernment be imbued with charity. Read more

The Other Side of the Vows

So many times I have been the one asking the questions – “Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his Word and showing his love?” or “Do you promise, through prayer and example, to support and encourage this child to be a faithful Christian?” and yet this time, I was the one answering them. Suddenly, I felt a little unsure – would I make a mistake and answer a “Will you?” question with an “I do” answer? I didn’t know where to stand, and I felt underdressed without my robe.

I found myself wanting to say the words along with the minister, but it wasn’t my place. This was the first baptism I have attended where I was a sponsor, not a congregation member or the minister. Sponsor seems like such a generic term – used loosely to describe everything from a restaurant owner who provides t-shirts for a softball team to someone who promises to teach a child about the faith. I like to think of myself as Jackie’s fairy godmother and honorary auntie instead. I see my role as sponsor as someone who will love and encourage her, pray for her, teach her about God, and help her pick the perfect pair of shoes for any occasion.

I have to admit that from the time this baptism was scheduled, I was secretly hoping that my best friend Jill and her husband Jeff would ask me to be Jackie’s sponsor. And to my great joy, they did. So last November, I stood at the front of their church with them and watched as Jackie was baptized as a child of the covenant.

A few weeks ago, after reflecting on this experience, I began to write a hymn. I’ve noticed over the years that there is a shortage of baptism hymns, at least in the hymnal that my church uses. I wanted to capture the beauty of that moment, the holiness of it. And so I wrote. Most times, when I write a hymn, the words come quickly. Fully formed phrases find their way onto the page. But not this time. For several days, I wrestled with the words – often waking in the middle of the night to scrawl the lyrics on a piece of paper next to my bed. Read more

blue knit scarf

Joined and Knit Together

blue yarn ball being knittedIt was the second time I learned to knit that stuck. The first time, my grandmother taught me during a summer vacation; I remember struggling with the yarn and needles, wondering if this would even turn into something usable. The second time was when I was in seminary. My sister had started knitting, and over one Christmas break I re-learned. This time the stitches were more even, the results more gratifying. Like many knitters I began with scarves–lots of scarves.

I learned that knitting is a way for me to make sense of the world. The more clergy knitters I meet, the more I realize how many of us knit to see tangible results. How often do we come home knowing we have had a long full day, but unlike accountants who have a completed spreadsheet, we cannot see the results? The counseling session may have been fruitful, the capital campaign may have been planned, the prayers prayed, but often the results are not immediate and tangible. As pastors, much of what we do is holy, but hard to see. However, coming home and picking up the needles and yarn, even for a few
minutes, provides concrete evidence that today we have done something. Knitting was what got me through CPE. The hours spent in repetitive seminars had a purpose–the knitting of a big purple blanket that is still on my couch today.

blue knit scarfThrough knitting I remember milestones–the fabric is a scrapbook of sorts. The blue scarf I wore to my Grandfather’s funeral is still in my winter wardrobe. In my closet in a bag is the sweater I started when I was seeking my first call. The scarf I wore all last winter was a splash of color during the short grey days, and long nights. A prayer shawl begun for a friend is now a wrap I keep in my office for chilly days. There was a sweater I wore when I needed to remember my gifts and skills. Some people collect spoons or charms or postcards when they travel–I buy souvenir yarn and dream about the possibilities contained within.

handmade knit socksFor me, knitting is sometimes an act of faith. I may have a plan, I may know what I want a project to become, but there are always surprises along the way. The stripes on one sock are different than the other (who needs matching socks anyway?). The sweater is too short, the blanket not quite square. Like much of life, and much of ministry, I find that if I take a deep breath and say a prayer, God presents the solution I never could have imagined.

Reflections on the Sacred Center

God brings many things to birth in and through us, no matter what our circumstance of life, family or vocation might be.

 

motherhood. ministry. life. creativity. partnering. loving. being a neighbor.

each part of life merges together through the many hats i wear. as i reflect on life’s successes and near misses, i come to view my life focusing on the sacred center, the space in which God resides and flows into me, from me, and into all other parts of my life. each of the concentric circles i create are becoming more a focus of the sacred circles, or the sacred center. in my work of art + spirituality and in living the creative life, i so often return to these simple structures: circle on circle. i think of my life more as a mandala: a movement from the outside in, or from the inside out, with God as the sacred center. my many roles are the circles moving from God to the outside, and some days from me to the God-side. each breath is a sacred moment. each stitch is a prayer. each color speaks to me and comes from the Creative Spirit within. Read more

In Need of God by Sharon Benton

I’m in the process of trying to write a sabbatical grant focused on interweaving the sacred feminine (God the Mother, Sophia, Creator) with my own creativity and intuitive ways of knowing. As I write within the parameters of the grant application proposal, I begin to realize how impossible it is to genuinely embody my sabbatical in the proposal – the proposal instructions leave no space for the creative endeavor! So I offer my grant proposal to Fidelia – in its true form.

In Need of God

I need the Father
I need the connection that Jesus knew –
his immanent and intimate relationship with
Abba –
Papa.
I need him, too.

I need the King
I need his absolute authority over my life
(although I tend to rebel – don’t you?)
his protection and care
which balance my utter dependence.
I need him, too.

I need the Lord
My allegiance only to him
my devotion and faithfulness to the One beyond all earthly
lords
governments
loyalties.
I need him, too.

Father – King – Lord
he continues to comfort, encourage, challenge
me
and you!
He is strong and determined to keep me
and my 21st century kin
from falling prey to powers and principalities
that strive for more and more
of life
of will
of desire
…of our very souls.
I need the Father-Lord-King of All.

AND

I need the Mother
her warm breast nourishing my hunger
her bleeding womb fertile with creative energy
her intuitive wisdom shared over baked, broken and buttered bread.
I need her long, unbound hair that identifies me
as beloved daughter in her image
I need her flowing skirt harboring openness and freedom for my sex
I need her name spoken with love
and her love spoken with joy
I need the Mother, my God – God of All.

New Poems by “Pink Shoes”

This month we feature two new poems by a pseudonymous blogger who writes at Pink Shoes in the Pulpit.

 

Words

You remind me of words
I said long ago
Words that I’d forgotten
and scenarios
I had scrubbed clean away.
You make me laugh
and somehow sad,
not knowing what
this is all about.
I scanned over some
pieces today
that represented
more than the black and white
on the page,
and that conjured up places
I’d allowed to gather dust.
Tile by tile
Piece by piece
Creating a bit of
wholeness.

_____________

Read more