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Parlor and Kitchen Stories

Kitchen stories are the unsparing, honest, dirty-dishes-in-the-sink truths.

This spring, I took a job in a new church context. There is something so unique and exhausting about the first couple of months of a new job, trying to memorize names, make connections, and meet expectations which may or may not be spelled out. One major aspect of any new job is listening: getting people to open up, and hearing the stories that parishioners choose to tell.

As I listened to all these stories, I was reminded of something I heard at a conference a couple of years ago. The speaker talked about church in terms of parlor stories and kitchen stories. The parlor is the room in a house with immaculate carpet and formal furniture–parlor stories are those stories that cast the church in the most positive light. Parlor stories are the “official” history of the church and feature the content that would belong on a brochure. They are like a grandmother’s pristine furniture covered in plastic. They are the stories that I heard from people serving on the search committee when I was going through the interview process.

A parlor exists as a valid room of a house, and parlor stories are valid, but they are not the only truth about a church. In contrast to the parlor, different narratives emerge when people are busy scrapping food off plates and wiping down counters. Kitchen stories are the unsparing, honest, dirty-dishes-in-the-sink truths. Read more

Zechariah: In Which God Redeems a Mansplainer

A painting by artist Alexandr Andreyevich Ivanov (1806-1858)

Holy One, we come with many things on our hearts and minds. We come with grief and with joy, with heavy hearts and busy schedules. We come with certainty and with doubts. Bless the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts, that each of us might hear your word for us today. Amen.

The silence changed everything. Everything. At first I tried to talk, I tried to hum, I tried to rasp, scream, whisper, grunt, whistle, anything I could think of. I lay in bed at night trying everything, my tongue working against my speechless lips, worrying at my teeth, begging in vain for my disobedient vocal chords to comply. Nothing worked – I was completely mute, every attempt to vocalize utterly noiseless. I might as well have been trying to fly.

It was so frustrating to be silent. I’d always been a big talker anyway. I loved to shoot the breeze on a quiet afternoon, to tell stories around the table, to debate about scripture in the synagogue. To be mute now, after this, was unbearable. I had so much to say!

It had been a lifetime of waiting for my wife Elizabeth and me. We’d waited for a child, waiting and waiting and waiting until slowly we accepted that it was too late. We’d waited faithfully for the Messiah, suffering year after year under the Roman imperial occupation, enduring the centurions and governors and their tyrannical puppet kings, praying for the day when God would save us and free us. And we’d waited years for my turn to offer incense in the sanctuary. Each group of priests served for a week twice a year, and each day one of us would be chosen by lots for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to approach the Holy of Holies. I had waited, time after time, for my lot to be drawn. The priests God chose for the task seemed to get younger and younger. Sometimes I wondered if God had forgotten us. But not anymore.

It had seemed like a normal morning as I set off to the Jerusalem temple, joining along the way with the other priests from the order of Abijah. I had pretty much resigned myself by that time, but that day my name was chosen to enter the inner sanctuary and offer the incense. I had entered the chamber prepared to experience the silent, perfect peace of the presence of the Lord. As I lit the incense, there was a rush of wind, and a breath-taking, awe-inducing something stood before me, all wings and eyes and sound. I was terrified; my memory is fuzzy, all flashes and snippets. Elizabeth. A son. Name him John. Something about Elijah. Prepare the way of the Lord. Read more

Prince Edward Island coast

A Pastor’s Scope for Imagination

Prince Edward Island coast

Prince Edward Island

When I was growing up, I would travel to Minnesota each year to visit my maternal grandparents. My grandmother had very strict parameters as to what content she would watch on her television.  Although she had cable and thus access to dozens of channels, she only watched Animal Planet and the Weather Channel because she deemed the others to be potentially sinful. An alternative to those television channels was the VHS version of a 1985 miniseries, “Anne of Green Gables,” and its 1987 sequel, “Anne of Avonlea.” I grew to love these videos, and I always opted to watch them over the Weather Channel. Returning to “Anne of Green Gables” year after year in my grandmother’s Minnesota living room left me brimming with the warmth of nostalgia and love.

The setting of “Anne of Green Gables” is Prince Edward Island (PEI), and scenery depicted in the miniseries made me eager to visit the Canadian island in person someday. I suggested that in 2017 the family vacation be to PEI. Happily, my family was on board and we spent two lovely weeks exploring the Atlantic Maritime provinces. PEI was gorgeous—the sand was distinctively red on some beaches; green potato plants were growing in neat rows; and the rural roads were dotted with quaint, old church buildings. In anticipation of the trip, I read the 1908 novel by Lucy Maud Montgomery that inspired the miniseries, and my appreciation for the fictional Anne grew all the more.

I love Anne’s emphasis on the pleasure and the necessity of having an imagination. Early in the novel, Anne declares, “Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive–it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we knew all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?”  Read more

Small Town Listening

geograph-2468910-by-mike-quinn

Antony Gormley’s statue “Untitled [Listening]”, Maygrove Peace Park, Great Britain

Munoz.
Munzo?
Moon-YO-sssss.
Mun oz?
Moon yo SSSS
Mnozee?

Moon, like moon in the sky. Yo, like “hey man.”  Ssss like snake.

People often assume that I met my husband on a mission trip. I imagine that their version goes something like:

Young female pastor meets attractive and impoverished but dashing young man in a third world country and rescues him to be her beloved husband and they live happily ever after.

It makes me chuckle on the days it doesn’t drive me crazy. I met my husband at a bar while shooting pool. I’m a decent player. He’s better.

Pastoring is a strange thing. One of the paradoxes of ministry is that being a pastor is both a vocation and a lifestyle choice. I think I always knew that, but it isn’t so obvious as you are journeying through seminary living in an anonymous atmosphere. It doesn’t sink in until you’ve taken a call, accepted a position, and discovered that your life is fair game for gossip in small town ministry. At that point it becomes crystal clear that pastors are fair game. Read more

Grace at the Graveside

Be still…

Be still.

Be still.

Be still.

With varying degrees of success, this has been my mantra as of late. Ministry is quite the opposite of stillness. Ministry requires moving—running ahead of deadlines, walking with the hurt, throwing out hope, catching blessings, dancing and leaping for joy. Stillness won’t write the monthly newsletter, prepare a congregational prayer, lead retreats, authorize bus repairs, exegete a text, teach Bible study, answer e-mails, serve communion, visit the homebound, and then squeeze in time for a social life.

And still, I try to take a moment each day to be. Stealing away to the sanctuary during a particularly hectic day, sitting outside in the beautiful fall air. Sometimes I simply shut my office door and close my eyes for five minutes.

Stillness.

Being.

Knowing God.

My hope, in doing this a little each day, is that this stillness will sustain me when I’m on the move. That in the inevitable movements of hectic hospice visits and frantic phone calls, I can be and know.

Lovely, isn’t it? Peaceful, even. I’m finally on my way to becoming one of those people I’ve always admired, who are centered, set aside time for God, prize silence and sitting. You know, Ghandi, Henri Nouwen, Mother Superior in “The Sound of Music.” Trying my hardest to overcome my extroverted, ambitious, multi-tasking, over-analytical tendencies, even if it’s just for a few moments each day. Being still. Being still. Being still.

Until yesterday, when stillness betrayed me. Read more