Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Daughter Remembers Her Father

Today marks two years since my dad died.  Two years.

It is Sunday and I'll gather to worship with the congregation I serve.  We are celebrating the twelve days of Christmas.  We'll sing carols and read lessons.  We'll remember that God is with us.  We'll give thanks for the Word made flesh.

And I will give thanks for the Word that lived and loved and claimed my dad.  For all eternity.  

In giving thanks for my dad today, I share the reflection I offered at his memorial service.

“Don’t forget to wear your boots.” 

During my senior year in high school I had written a paper on a “Remembered Person;” someone who could be living or dead.  I chose my step-dad, Bill.  We knew he was dying.  I then shared those words I had written with the congregation at the memorial service. 

Today, for my dad, I didn’t have a school course paper to read from.  And I don’t know if I would have chosen my dad because for the last few months I have failed to acknowledge how sick my dad was.  I didn’t want to imagine a life without him.  I couldn’t bring myself to think of the day that I couldn’t call him up on the phone with a car question or some mechanical problem.  Or just to share with him about my Sunday service and what he heard that morning from the sermon at his church. 

And now I find myself at a loss  - loss of a father, loss of words, loss of faith. 

And then I hear my dad telling me, “Don’t forget to wear your boots.”  For two years while I was in Africa, without fail at the end of every phone conversation (sometimes weekly) and at the end of every letter he sent me, I read or heard, “Don’t forget to wear your boots.”  He was concerned for my health – for snakes, for cuts, and infections, and for hippos.  He loved his daughter. 

If I was preaching and using these words from my dad, I would somehow make a theological connection, find some Gospel truth to them – and I’m sure there is – but today I just remember my dad and his love for a daughter.

Love that spent hours with me learning how to drive and then ensuing car trips just to drive and be together.

Love that could always make new friends and talk to anyone.

Love that would sing a favorite show tune or jazz standard at any moment. 

Love that could talk for hours of trains and cars and squeal with delight at the sight of a classic car.

Love that cried at romantic comedies and relentlessly denied any such tears.

Love that adored board games and adamantly encouraged hand washing before beginning the game and touching any of the pieces.  

Love that always told me things would be okay and to not worry. 

A love that will walk with me.  A love that did not die Thursday morning. 

Don’t worry dad, I’ll remember to wear my boots.  

Friday, December 27, 2013

Peer into the Light - A Message for Christmas Eve

I am afraid of the dark.

Really.  It's not a laughing matter.  

As afraid of the dark as checking-under-the-bed-and-making-sure-the-closet-doors-are-fully-shut afraid of the dark.

Afraid of the dark as being in the basement and turning the lights off and not looking back running out of breath up the stairs for fear of anything reaching out to me.

Afraid of the dark as never walking in a cemetery alone.

Afraid of the dark as the youth are who play sardines in the church building in the dark holding on to one another, jumping at each turn.

Afraid of the dark as turning on every light in the house when alone.

Afraid of the dark never locking myself in a dark bathroom.

I am afraid of the dark.

Yet tonight, gathered in the darkness, here we are.
Gathered to give thanks for the birth of the Christ child.
Gathered to greet this babe born in a manger.

And it's night.  And it's dark.  And I'm afraid.

Just a few days after the longest night,
the darkness still feels all-encompassing.
             The darkness is powerful and lonely;
                          it has a voice of its own.
Darkness seeping into my bones bringing fear.
              The darkness of the night that knows no bounds.  Darkness.

Darkness in our world where people are yearning for food and shelter.
              Darkness where too much violence and hatred is known.
                         Darkness in our shortsightedness and unwillingness to compromise.                
                                         Darkness in feeling completely at a loss.

A darkness not only found in the night and in lands far away,
           but a darkness that has been a part of our lives this year.

A darkness in community saying goodbye to beloved members.
A darkness in realizing that this Christmas is different;
              darkness in missing a family member.
                        A darkness in the heart yearning for forgiveness or the courage to forgive.  Darkness in the fragility of life.
Darkness in wondering what our callings in life are and whether we'll ever fit in.

And here we gather this evening, at night to greet the One who brings light into our world.  And we hear the words of scripture proclaimed to us, for us, remembering the night in which they first echoed:

Do not be afraid, for see - I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:  
to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.  

Do not be afraid - the light has come into the world.

Do not be afraid - the light has come for you.

For even the wisest of men were drawn to search for the light and walked from lands far away.

For even the shepherds of the fields were greeted by a heavenly chorus of angels.

For even Mary and Joseph birthed the light into the world for each of us.

For even you and I, the light shines in the darkness.

So you ask, Pastor, are you still afraid of the dark?

Yes, I am.

But I am even more in awe of the light –
so in awe of this light that I can't help but bow down before the manger,
              drop to my knees at the foot of the cross,
                              and offer myself to the light.

I am afraid of the dark and equally in awe of the light that conquers all darkness,
that brings all people into its power,
         and reaches to the farthest depths to bring light to a world in need.

I am in awe of the light because nothing, nothing, can ever destroy its power.
A light and a love so great it is beyond human understanding.  

I am in awe of the light because it’s the only truth that will tell me my worth isn't bound to anything I do or accomplish or say, no, the light tells me I am loved for being a child of God.

I am in awe of the light because when I have lost my way and the determination to live,
the light brings me back into community where I am known and loved.

I stand in awe-some wonder of this light.

This is the gift of this night.
That the light, Jesus Christ, has come into the world.
Born in a manger for you and for me.
Born to be our savior.

Born to be light for the world so that nothing will bring us down and nothing will tell us we’re not good enough.

Born to be light for the world to know that we are each God’s beloved child.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Let your Light Shine

There are some days when the words just don't come.  There are some days which are so full of God's presence that it's almost too much to take in.  There are some days when all one can do is simply say, "Amen."  

Baptisms are definitely one of those days.  

Last week, Christ and Trinity Lutheran celebrated with Lilly Logan and her family on her baptism day.  It was a day where we publicly gave thanks for being called and claimed and marked as children of God.

Getting ready for the day, I shared with the confirmation students and invited them to write letters to Lilly.  Their faithfulness and love is beyond words.    

Dear Lilly Grace, 

When you are baptized, you become a child of God and become forgiven.  You are cleansed by the purifying waters.  May God cleanse your soul.  We love you. 

Dear Lilly Grace, 

You will LOVE to be baptized!  You might not think about it much and what it will mean to you, but it means a lot.  You will feel cleansed, loved, and forgiven.  

Love, the Confirmation students


God, who is rich in mercy and love, gives us a new birth into a living hope through the sacrament of baptism.  By water and the Word God delivers us from sin and death and raises us to new life in Jesus Christ.  We are united with all the baptized in the one body of Christ, anointed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and joined in God's mission for the life of the world. 

Lilly, child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. 

Jesus said, I am the light of the world. 

Sustain us with the gift of your Holy Spirit:
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord,
the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever.   
We welcome you into the body of Christ and into the mission we share:
join us in giving thanks and praise to God and bearing God's creative and redeeming word to all the world.  

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Beyond Predictions

On this first Sunday in Advent I cannot hep but reminisce about what I've learned in the last three years at Christ and Trinity Lutheran.

Three years ago I first set foot in Sedalia, Missouri.  Prior to my interview with the call committee, I had never even heard of Sedalia.  It was indeed a call and the work of the Spirit.  After being picked up at the airport, I drove an hour and a half with two members of the congregation and began to learn about these people and this community.  Arriving in Sedalia when I stepped outside the vehicle at the Best Western Hotel, I immediately noticed a distinct, unfamiliar to me, smell - manure.  It was Monday and the auction house across the street was in the middle of the cattle auction.  Welcome to Missouri, I thought!

Three years ago, the congregation and I, could not have predicted how God would continue to work in our lives.  I couldn't have predicted the depth of love, and grace, and forgiveness.  I couldn't have predicted the maturing together into pastor and congregation.

I often look out into the congregation Sunday after Sunday and remember the first time I met the people as they visited the church.  I have memories of awkward conversations, getting to know you questions, and the invite for a cup of coffee or tea to share stories.  I remember the stories and the longings and the hope for community.

Almost 50 years ago, the ground was broken for the church building where we gather week after week.  Talking with one of our older theologians, Iva, she shared about being at the land for the groundbreaking of this new church building.  I imagine she could not predict how God would work in the lives of the people to come.  Iva couldn't have predicted all the children, adults, families, widowers, and singles who would come together week after week and be formed into a community.

Could she have pictured the lives changed?
The forgiveness offered?
The reconciliation between families?
The marriages?
The funerals?
The baptisms?
The lessons and songs and prayers and sermons?
The bread and wine freely given?

Each Sunday, I am in awe.  I could not have predicted how God would bring such diverse and loving people into community.  I could not have predicted the blessings and wholeness that has emerged.

And on this first Sunday in Advent, at the start of this time of waiting and preparation, I look forward with hope to what is to come.  I look forward to the continued unexpected blessings.  I look forward to the daily living and breathing and being in community.  I look forward to the Spirit continually at work in the world.  For when so much seems uncertain and so much fear resides among people and communities and countries, gathering week after week makes a difference.  Singing songs, offering prayers, baptizing, loving, forgiving, eating, and drinking makes a difference.

And only God knows the fullness of such simple, yet radical, acts.

I don't know what the next months and years will hold.  But each Sunday when I look out into the congregation, I am positive that I know who holds us all together in community.

I can not predict what will come, but I can, with confidence, trust in the One who has already come.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Lesson on the Cross

I could probably write a book about all the lessons I learn from the confirmation students.  One gift of serving a church is the opportunity to learn from others.  The gift of being humbled.  The gift of being reminded of the power in God's people.  

This year we have five young theologians who gather on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings for confirmation class.  

Five theologians who are changing the world.

It was a particularly energetic Wednesday evening when we gathered.  
Question after question.  
       Side note after side note.  
              Interruption after interruption.  
                       And repeat.  
The energy remained high the entire evening.

Our time together begins with highs and lows and ends in prayer.  We model, from a young age, what communities do together.  We share what's going on in our lives and we pray for one another.  We listen, we laugh, we cry, we wonder.  We hold the sacredness and the ordinariness of our days.  Together.  In hearing the highs and lows of the students, I get a sense of the full depth of our community.  Challenges at school and work, struggles with family, hopes and dreams, pure joy, and pure life.  

This particular Wednesday we gathered in the sanctuary to debate.  The topic chosen by one of the students was to debate (between the boys and girls) the character of God.  Was God masculine or feminine?  

They composed their thoughts and then went to the microphone to express their point of view. There they stand being young theologians talking about God.   

The noise and energy and questions continue.  Keeping up with them is like watching a ping pong ball go back and forth over the net.  Back and forth, back and forth.  

Someone trips on the step.  Laughter ensues.  More questions.  More debating about God being male or female.  

And then I look over and see Joey dipping his finger into the baptismal font and make the sign of the cross on his forehead.

"You are a child of God."  

I ask him, "Did you just make the sign of the cross?"

"Yes, I did."  

It's almost as if I can hear him saying, "Of course, Pastor, I made the sign of the cross.  I am a child of God.  I am forgiven."  

Then the two girls run over to the baptismal font and each mark the sign of the cross on each others' forehead.  

"You are a child of God."  

And then we continue to debate about God.  We continue to learn and listen and laugh with each other.  
We continue to ask questions.  And throughout, we are reminded that God breaks through our lives to remind us of who we are.  Beloved. 

"You are a child of God." 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

On Pumpkins and Memories

Her name is Mariama.  Yama we call her.  And she knew about life and smiles and play.  She taught me not to worry about getting my clothes dirty, to open my hands to one and all, and to smile with reckless abandon. 

She was just a toddler when I lived in her compound for two years.  Just beginning to talk and experience the awe of new words.  "Cry" was a word she shared when I left village for good.  She knew my name and could say it as we were both called Mariama.

As she sits with the pumpkins above, it's clear that she was always up for a picture. 

When Halloween came my first October in village it seemed fitting to introduce my family to the joy and creativity of pumpkin carving.  The Gambians did grow pumpkins after all - green ones!  They tasted good and were a treat in any rice or coos dish.  Part of serving in the Peace Corps is the cross-cultural exchange.  I learned the Wollof language.  I worshipped with my family.  I worked in the fields.  I celebrated holidays with them.  I cooked with them.  I shared pictures and books of my home and family.  We laughed a lot.  We sat and shared stories.  We sat in silence. 

And with Halloween came pumpkin carving.  With the challenges of language and my limited pumpkin carving skills, it was a feast for the eyes as we indulged in the fun of bringing our pumpkins to life.  We cut and drew pictures.  We picked out the seeds.  We scared one another with our faces.  It was Halloween. 

And when everyone carved and was content with their new creations we lit candles and placed them in the pumpkin.  The night was alive not only from the moon and the stars this night, but from our pumpkins. 

We looked proudly on what stared back at us.  For a few moments we stood in awe. 

Then Yama's mother asked me, "What do we do with them?"

"We just look at them," I say. 

"That's it?"  She looks back quizzically with a hint of concern. 

"We need to eat them.  We can't have them go to waste." 

And there in that moment, in my attempts at sharing across the cultures and bringing Halloween to The Gambia, I was face-to-face with my own culture's excessiveness.  The cultural lens in which I was raised celebrating Halloween and gorging on candy and carving pumpkins only to have them smashed days later came head to head with the people of The Gambia.  A people who never waste anything - from vegetables to animals, to pieces of scraps, to plastic bags.  A people whose children share one piece of candy between four or five friends.  A people who continually opened my eyes to see the abundance in my midst.  To be reminded to use that abundance for sustenance and not destruction. 

In the end, we did have the night lit with pumpkins we had carved.  I have great pictures from my cross-cultural sharing.  There was plenty of laughter.   

And the next night we feasted on pumpkin. 


Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Psalm for Sedona

The gifts of this past October were numerous.  Blessings abounded through travel and time and sun and beauty with my mother visiting Sedona, Arizona.  I give thanks that my mother delights in travel and that her sense of adventure and curiosity remains strong.  Traveling and opening ourselves to other cultures and peoples and experiences is in our bones.  So in honor of my mother and our fabulous trip to Sedona, I share a few pictures and God's words over our experience.  

Lord, you have searched me out:
O Lord, you have known me.  
You know my sitting down and my rising up; 
you discern my thoughts from afar.  

You trace my journeys and my resting-places and are acquainted with all my ways.  
Indeed there is not a word on my lips, but you, O Lord, know it altogether.  

You encompass me, behind, and before, and lay your hand upon me.  

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain to it.  Where can I go then from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I climb up to heaven, you are there: if I make the grave of my bed, you are there also.  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there you hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast.  

If I say, "Surely, the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night," darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike.

For you yourself created my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb.  I will thank you because I am marvelously made; your works are wonderful, and I know it well.  


Friday, October 4, 2013

Hands Up!

"For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; that I know very well."

A new baby in the community brings joy and celebration.

So there we sat in the living room.  Mom, dad, big sister and little sister.  Only two weeks old this new life is full of potential and possibility.  Hope.  This grace, and this reassurance that God doesn't give up on the world.  It's days like these that I'm in awe of being a pastor.

It's days like these that I fall down humbly before God.

After holding this new life and hearing about transitioning from a three person family to four, it was time for a prayer and blessing.  Time to give thanks to God for health and life and grace.  Time to pray for growth and laughter and smiles for years to come.  Time to stand in awe of God's creation.

Three-year-old big sister was present and after some time inviting her to place her hand on her new baby sister for a blessing and getting no where, I asked her to put her hands in the air.  "Lift your hands up to give thanks to God."

She smiled.  And the hands went up.  Prayers ascending.  Hope in the air.

"For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; that I know very well."

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Cole Camp Musings

Cole Camp, Missouri.

People ask, how do you like living in a town of 1,000?
So, what do you think of your new home?
Are you settling in?
Do you like small town life?

My answer keeps coming back to sounds.  For a simple yes doesn't carry with it the beauty of what it is to live among these people and in this town and immersed in this history.

You see, it's the sounds that remind me where I am.  It's in the sounds that I experience a history deeper than I can imagine and richer beyond understanding.

It's in the sounds that I can join my voice and amen to a life worth living.

So let me tell you about Cole Camp, Missouri.  Let me tell you about what I hear.

I hear the sounds of children playing across the street at the Water Tower park (only the water tower is no longer standing and I have never seen the water tower, yet even I refer to it as the water tower park).

I hear the sounds of cicadas and bugs and critters and howls in the night.  And I realize that I am just a small part of God's creation living amidst such diversity in the country.  

I hear the sounds of church hymns that play from the neighboring church each morning at 8, again at 12, and then to bring the night to a close at 6 and 8.

I hear the church bells that toll at the death of a community member.  Each bell for a year of life lived and loved.

I hear the shrills and joy of children at the Cole Camp World's Fair as they ride late into the night and try their hand at winning a large toy.

I hear cheers for floats in the parade - filled with flowers and hours of care.

I hear the sounds of German songs as the choir sings throughout the streets.

I hear tractors and golf carts and hellos to friends and strangers alike.

I hear and I listen.

This is but a glimpse into the orchestra of life in Cole Camp, Missouri.


I also hear the silence.

And the still small voice of the One who speaks our names in the wind and calls us into community.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Jumping into Community


For some the word brings nightmares or fits of sleeplessness.  Others are put to sleep by confirmation.  Some think fondly of their time learning the Bible, the Christian faith, and getting to know all the crevices and hiding places of the church.  And, for many, confirmation is a rite of passage.  Sundays and Wednesdays, lock-ins, sermon notes, service projects, and Martin Luther make up the ELCA student's confirmation program.

I was the only student in confirmation.  Only me.  For two years I remember spending Saturday mornings with the pastor - and going through a workbook.  It's not that we didn't have a youth group, we did.  A small and mighty group.  But I happened to be the only one of confirmation age during those two years.  I don't remember much of what I learned (although something must of stuck as I'm now a pastor in the ELCA).  Or rather, God continued working on me long after confirmation class.  I do remember memorizing a few things.  I remember the youth group trips and lock-ins and sledding at the state park.  I do remember that I was excited once confirmed to officially be a part of the church.

Now, here I am years later serving as a pastor and engaging the youth in confirmation classes.  We don't do too much memorizing.  They have no workbooks.  But they do have each other, and the church community.  And God's word.  And prayer.  And lots of laughter.

My hope for the youth is that they don't see confirmation as something to get through, but as a gift for building relationships with God and with one another.  As just one part of their journey of faith, as a reminder that they are already a part of the church.  That they are claimed by God in the waters of baptism and their identity as a child of God can never be taken away from them.  

We had three students, and just this past week the confirmation class was joined by two more students who recently moved to the area.  So we spent Sunday morning getting to know one another.

We ate skittles, stuffed marshmallows in our mouths and said, "Chubby bunny." We shared our highs and lows, created a human knot, maneuvered through a hula hoop, and then did a trust fall.

A few high school students joined us as well as a parent.  One of the new students, Joey, jumped right in when a volunteer was needed to fall.  We have a concrete church sign that added some height for the fall and up Joey went.

The parent present, also a boy scout leader, taught us about the trust fall.  How to hold our hands.  How we'd be there to catch Joey.  To trust.  To know we'd be there when he fell.

He said to Joey, "When you fall backwards, it will feel like nothing you've ever felt before."

When you fall, we'll be there to catch you.

Joey turned a bit and looked down - at the faces and hands of friends he'd just met.  He may have questioned what he had gotten himself into.  He may have doubted.

But he trusted.
He fell backwards.

And he was caught.
In the hands of the community.

"It will feel like nothing you've ever felt before."

Isn't that how many of us find ourselves in community?  We fall.  Sometimes we stumble upon it as a gift to be opened slowly and other times we come crashing into it.  

But nevertheless, we find ourselves in community.  

For some, we fall into community because it's what our parents and grandparents did Sunday after Sunday.
Others are forced to attend because it's what is expected.
Some are invited by friends to attend Vacation Bible school.
For another, an accident happens or a medical diagnosis.
Or we want to support our friend who needs someone to sit with her.

We fall into community and find ourselves surrounded by God's people.  A clumsy, loving, forgetful, and joyous group.  A community where we learn to love and to be loved.  I thank God that I get to spend so much time with youth and adults who are willing to trust so fully and play and pray so hard.

Falling backwards into the hands of friends does feel like nothing you've ever felt before, and so does trusting in the God whose hands reach out for us when we fall.

For when we fall into community we see the hands of others poised to catch us, and we fall and know that it is God's hands that are reaching out.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

God's Work. Our Hands.

How would you describe the church you attend?  What would you tell someone who didn't understand or know about this God in Jesus Christ that has claimed your life?  If you were in an elevator with someone and wanted to share the gifts of the church, what would you say?  

Those questions were posed to the confirmation students one Wednesday evening, a group of middle school students who are learning together about God and church, life and faith, doubt and belief.  We gather as students together to learn, play, pray, serve, love, and worship.  We gather to understand our calls and who God has shaped us to be for the world.  So as this particular question was posed, one of the parents was near by and so the daughter asked her father, "Dad, in an elevator, how would you tell someone about God."  

This father thoughtfully considered the question.  How would you tell someone about God?  When he answered, he had each of the students' attention, and he said, "I don't know, if you're in an elevator you have very little time, maybe a minute or two.  I think, yes, I would offer just a touch.  I would reach out my hand."

Yes, a hand.  Reaching out to another.  Connecting with another.  That's what God is about.  That's what this life of faith is about.  Reaching out to our neighbors - both friends and enemies.  Reaching out to love and serve God by loving and serving our neighbor.  The larger church that Christ and Trinity Lutheran Church is a part of is the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).  Over 10,000 congregations make up the ELCA across the US, a diversity of people and congregations, a diversity of expressions and contexts.  Together we as the church reach out.  Just this past weekend the ELCA encouraged members to take part in a day of service known as God's Work, Our Hands Sunday.  A day of service to do what we do every day as people of faith - love, serve, roll up our sleeves, make our communities better places - but to do those things together on one Sunday.  So at Christ and Trinity we happily and excitedly took part.  We sorted for Open Door, we created health and wellness bags for the women at the CASA shelter (Citizens Against Spousal Abuse) and we spent the afternoon playing Bingo with the residents of Rest Haven.  We reached out.  We touched another's hand.  We felt God's hand guiding us.

In the end we served God by serving our neighbors.  We used very few words.  We rarely spoke the words of the church that are misunderstood and complicated, but rather we reached out.  We laughed.  We prayed.  We gathered.  We sorted.  We colored.  We collected.  

Yes, God's Work, Our Hands.  Reaching out.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Always Being Made New

"So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation:
everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!" 

There's much to be written regarding the gifts of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly which met in Pittsburgh last week.  As a voting member of the Central States Synod (Kansas and Missouri) I spent the week awe-struck by the energy, faithfulness, peacefulness, and hope witnessed at the assembly.  Hope for what God is doing in the world right now.  Hope for what will be that continues to be unknown and yet unnamed.

If I could sit down with you, I'd share with you about the almost 1,000 people from all walks of life and all across the country gathering for worship daily, lifting voices in song and prayer, sitting in the silence, seeing and hearing the diversity of all God's people called to preach and preside.  

I'd also share with you the beauty of celebrating in song.  Four-part harmony among Lutherans is as close as you get to the heavenly choirs of angels.  

And the dancing - a congo line with bishops, pastors, youth, the young and old, moving and shaking and singing, "Come, Come, Come Holy Spirit, Come!"  

And of course, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to tell you about the cookies!  Oh, the cookies!  440 dozen a day to be precise.  The Pennsylvania women of the ELCA know a thing or two about hospitality, and the need for sugar after a long day of working. 

I'd also share passionately my pride in the ELCA for making a statement about criminal justice, in hearing the cries of the oppressed and offering our voices into the conversation and inviting our congregations into places of learning and engagement with those in the criminal justice system.  

I'd invite you to join the ELCA in moving forward with conversations on ministering to same-gender couples and families.  

I'd tell you of the wonderful resource the ELCA published this year, "The Prayerbook for the Armed Services" and encourage you to share the book with military men and women and their families.  And then to join in prayer for those who serve our country.  

I'd invite you to give - give to World Hunger, Lutheran Disaster Response, Global Missions, and the Malaria Campaign, just to name a few of the amazing demonstrations of the church at work in the world.  We listened to a man from Malaysia who learned of the love of Jesus from an ELCA missionary.  

I'd tell you about the young adults who shared their voice and who raised their voices in support of youth and young adult ministries.  

One cannot forget the election of Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and the gratitude and graciousness displayed between Bishop Hanson and Bishop Eaton; two very fine leaders whose commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ leads this church into the heart of a world in need.    

I'd also share that this assembly was the first to have a representative of a non-Abrahamic faith invited to share a welcome.  A Sikh man eloquently spoke of the hope he felt after the shooting in Oak Creek, Wisconsin and that the first group to reach out to the Sikh community was the ELCA with a letter from Bishop Hanson.  

I'd tell you that God is indeed doing a new thing among us and that YOU are a part of that new thing.

Perhaps most importantly, I'd tell you about a line.  Walking in line to receive the gifts of God in bread and wine.  One morning as I walked towards the front to receive communion during the daily worship, I stood behind a father with his 7 month-old daughter and a family with their toddler son.  I'd tell you that in those two children and in their families, I saw the reason why we gathered this week.  I saw in that young baby girl and that toddler boy that the church will be here for them.  The church is here for them now to receive God's free gifts and to know that they are loved.  And the church will be there for them to share their God-given gifts and to provide them with a community that rolls up their sleeves, stands on the side of justice and peace, hears the cries of the oppressed, and believes that God is making all things new.  

Come, Come, Come Holy Spirit, Come.  

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Pastor's Distraction

It's not every Sunday that the pastor walks into the sanctuary to be met by a life-size, cardboard boat. 

A life-size cardboard boat perfectly situated in the center of the sanctuary blocking any chance of anyone coming to the communion table.

A life-size cardboard boat about to set sail for the upcoming week of Vacation Bible School.

Of course I had been warned about the boat.  A warning that included: "We'll have to be flexible with communion this morning, pastor."

Upon entering the sanctuary, I could hear the gospel text laughing at me:  "You are worried and distracted by many things."

It was fitting that the gospel for the day told of Mary and Martha and the visit of Jesus to their home.  There was Martha keeping busy, being distracted by the many things she needed to accomplish to offer hospitality to her guest.  Jesus of all guests!  Of course she was busy and distracted. 

And then there was her sister, Mary.  Mary who sat at the feet of Jesus to listen.  To be.  To know that she is loved precisely because of whose she is, not what she does. 

So what about my distraction - a life-size cardboard boat in the sanctuary!
I wondered if anyone would hear a word of the readings, the sermon, or follow the hymns for the day.  I wondered if the eyes of children and adults would drift from the cross to the boat, the cross to the boat....

Now, I love surprises.  I love being reminded that worship is never about perfection or neatness or being well-planned. 

I love that God comes to us precisely in the midst of our distractions. 

So give me a boat any Sunday.  Give me the reminders that Jesus breaks into our lives whether we're ready or not.  Whether we think we're worthy or not.  Whether we're distracted or not. 

So there we were, a community full of hope and excitement for the upcoming week.  A community with lots of talent and creativity.  And a large boat.

And we gave thanks to God.  We worshipped.  We prayed.  We sang.  We broke bread. 

Thanks to the large, boat, the words of institution were offered in the aisle.  I stood among the people, right in the midst of them.  I looked to my left and to my right and saw God's people hungry for a word of grace.  I lifted the bread and remembered Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed.  I lifted the bread and knew that the breaking of the bread was for each of us gathered that morning.  I lifted the wine and heard the words that each of our sins are forgiven. 

Right there in the center of our worship space, God broke into our lives and handed each of us strength for the journey, hope for the day, and grace beyond compare. 

One by one families and children and adults came forward to receive the bread. 
The body of Christ. Given for you.

One by one families and children and adults came forward to drink the wine.
The blood of Christ.  Shed for you. 

We weren't at the rail receiving communion as usual, rather we were at the back of the sanctuary, surrounded by God's people and one large boat.

I, for one, am glad for distractions, such as a boat, that force us out of our usual way of doing things and into the embrace of the One who has no boundaries.  The reminder that just when we think we have this whole church and faith life figured out, God breaks in with a presence so powerful that we have no other response but to say, Amen.   

Friday, June 28, 2013

The One about Love

"I like love."

The words spoken by a seminary professor were in response to hearing the engagement news for Stephen and I a few years ago.  We smiled because of course we were in love and we were infatuated with love as well.  And with each other.

"I like love."

Yes, I like love too and I hear those words when I'm with couples and families and children who are in the midst of life and love.  Stephen and I are at a mere 10 months of marriage (just over a month of actually being in the same place together) and we still very much "like love."

We took our time in planning the wedding and dreaming about what the day and our marriage would look like.  Full of love of course.  We dreamed big and then scaled down.  We reveled in the kind wishes of family and friends.  We smiled a lot.  We pictured ourselves as a couple growing old together.

In the midst of the planning and the long distance and the worries, I would remember words spoken to me by a colleague and friend when I was interning in Milwaukee.  As the vicar (fancy word for intern) I was invited to assist at the blessing of a marriage for Seth and Art.

Seth and Art - two people who just exude life and love and laughs.  Two people madly in love.  Two people committed to one another.  Seth who introduced himself to me very early on and invited me to join in the (non-existent) liturgical dance group at the church.  I knew right from the start I wanted to be a part of their day.  

It had just been about a month since I began serving and living among the people of Lake Park Lutheran and I was quite humbled and honored to be a part of their special day of love.  As we were gathering on the day of the wedding, Pr. David said to me,

"Now, Kim, when you are a pastor and presiding at a wedding and the bride and the bride's mother are stressed to the max and everything has to be perfect and the bride wants to make sure the day is the most perfect day, you remember Seth and Art.  You remember how much they had to work for their love.  You remember."  

And remember I do.  For just as much as I like love, I like love for all people.  All.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Parsonage Prayer

The smell of fresh paint and vinegar-washed cabinets. 
The wood floor polished.
The carpets newly cleaned and devoid of any mark or blemish.
Possibility and creativity at every corner. 

A new home ready. 

This week my husband, Stephen, and I will officially move in to the parsonage owned by the church he will be serving.  It will be our first home together.  Our first parsonage living experience.  Our first venture into creating sacred space together. 

We are ready and anxious and excited.  We've dreamed of what we'll place on the walls, how we'll decorate, where our treasures will be stored, and where we'll collapse for Sabbath rest.  I can picture the hanging baskets and the green grass, neighborhood cookouts, and lazy days on the porch.  Yet, as I think to the future, our future, I also can't help but to listen to the voices and history of the past.  The previous pastors and their families.  The memories.  The stories.  The history. 

If only the walls could talk.

Stephen and I are just one family in a long line of pastors who have moved to this town and this particular house to serve a particular people of Cole Camp, Missouri. 

If only the walls could talk. 

I enter the house and feel the weight of responsibility.  The call to be faithful residents of this home.  The call to recognize the gift of living among a people and being called to love in community.  I see pictures placed on the walls.  I imagine the stains and tears and heartaches that occurred and have been woven into the very fabric of the house.  I hear the voices of joy and laughter.  I see the kitchen table and the meals shared.  I ache for the losses experienced and the long nights praying for the community.  I hear the whispers and hushed voices of sleepovers. 

If only the walls could talk. 

This home that we will make our own will also make us into a family.  This home will be our shelter and refuge.  This home has stories to share and secrets to hide.

As I walk through the halls and imagine our future, I hear the faint whisper of a prayer, a prayer from the parsonage itself, a prayer to make a home and to honor the space:

To the residents of S. Hickory Street, 

This is your house now.  This is your home.  

You have the keys and the freedom to decorate, design and plant.  You will make a home among these walls and in this community.  You will wake up each morning to the bells of the neighboring church and be reminded that you are not alone; there are others who are hear to walk this life of ministry with you.  You will look out your front window and see the park - the park where children come to play, the park where people without a home find some shelter, and the park where birthdays are celebrated.  You will see the neighborhood cats and wonder how on earth one small town can have so many cats.  Oh, the cats!  

This is your house now.  This is your home.  

Remember, you are only one family following a long line of others who have made their home here.  Others will come.  Be gentle with the place and with yourself.  Don't take anything too seriously - this house has been through a lot.  Just as you will know where the floors creak and the door won't shut properly, this home, too, knows years worth of creaks and cracks, joys and sorrows.  

This is your house now.  This is your home.  

You are blessed to be among these people.  Remember that you are not alone.  There are prayers and possibilities behind each cabinet and within each wall.  So too must you pray for those who have come before you and those who are to come.  So too must you pray for the people who come to your door.  

This is your house now.  This is your home.  

Know that it welcomes you and calls you to welcome others.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Blessings of Children

Perhaps it's just me.
Or maybe down deep it's the reason all pastors become pastors (besides a call from God of course).
The children.  Oh, the children!

The children!  Their willingness to ask questions about God.  Their curiosity.  Their love.  Their hands open to receive God's gift of bread and wine.  Their laughter and tears.  The children who draw pictures of what God looks like and pictures of the pastor.  The children who know that church is a safe place.  The children who are not afraid to come forward in church and know that they are valued and loved.

For a while we didn't hear too many children in worship.
When we offered silence for prayers, we had silence.
When we took time to reflect on our sins, silence.
When the sermon was preached, silence.

These days we no longer have silence during the prayers or during the sermon.  We hear the laughter and cries of children who are just coming to know their own voices, who are eager to share with the world.  We hear the echo of "Amens" and "Alleluias!"  We hear questions about whether they can go to the nursery or visit with their friends.  We hear about snack time.  We have visitors up and down the aisles.  We have children.  We have life.

I look out at the congregation each and every Sunday and I give thanks.  I offer God's words of grace and love and know that the children, too, offer their voices in worship, offer words of God's grace and love.

You see, pastors need children in worship to remind them over and over again that this worship thing isn't about us.  Ever.  It's not about me.

It's about God.  It's about the Gospel.  The good news of Jesus Christ who lived, died and rose for us.  Each of us.  It's about community.  All of us.  Each and every one of us.  It's about blessing.

One of our spunky two-year-olds taught me a lesson about blessing.  This red-headed two-year-old comes to the communion table with her hands covering her forehead.  She knows I'm going to give her a blessing so she keeps her hands on her forehead.  Each Sunday, week after week, blessings are given to the children and this two-year-old, without a doubt, would cry each week upon feeling the blessing. Slowly, though, the cries have abated, but the hands still come up.  But I am not be deterred - blessing she will receive!

A few weeks ago her mother sent me an email and shared that even though her daughter refuses the blessing at church she appears to know its meaning and value since at home she places her hands on her mother and says, "Bless."


Even at two years old, even with placing her hands on her forehead to avoid the blessing, each and every Sunday, even then, she knows the power of a blessing.  She knows that it's not about her.  She shows us that ultimately God blesses us despite our best efforts to keep the blessing away.

We can't get away from God's blessings.  We can't miss the blessings of God.  They are all around us - from the youngest to the oldest and everyone in between.  So next time you hear the delighted sound of a child, remember how blessed we are to be in community.  Together.  Blessed.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Packing Prayers

May and August are special times in the life of the seminary.  For Trinity Lutheran Seminary students, transitions are a part of life in community.  Come every May and August you'll find moving vans, trucks, cars packed-to-the brim and excitement in the air for the upcoming year.

In August some students are new to the community and wondering what this seminary-thing is all about.  Others are returning from a summer serving as a hospital chaplain or a year-long internship.  And some have remained in the community.  Nevertheless, newness and hope run rampant.

And lots of moving.  Lots of boxes.  And those darn three-flights of stairs.

There's something in the air come August that signals to people - "Come and help move boxes!"  With the sight of a moving truck, people come.  Returning students and their families know what it is to move, over and over again.  Returning students know what it is to have the load lightened.  Returning students know that beer and pizza often come after hours of moving boxes.

The seminary community knows how to welcome.

I remember conversations with new students; many didn't even remember the names of those who had come to lend a hand.  It was all just too much.  But people were there to make the transition a bit easier.  My friend, Derek, always seemed to have a sixth sense of just when someone would need help moving.  I think he helped move every seminarian and their families one year.  It's just what you do in community.

Moving in the summer in Ohio may not be at the top of any one's list.  But with many hands and water and laughter, the job gets done.  And community is built.  One box at a time.    

That's why this past May graduation weekend at Trinity and with the moving of my husband to Missouri, I knew we were in good company.  I had witnessed countless moves, helped countless students, moved myself, and now finally, was moving my husband.

In the same way that a community knows how to welcome, they know how to say goodbye - one box at a time.  Step-by-step.  Lots of laughter.  And lots of pizza and beer.

The appointed time came for the loading of Stephen's boxes and furniture.  One by one our friends came.  Their spouses and their children too.  Another lesson in community - everyone has a place.  Even three-year-old Conner wanted to make sure he could carry Mr. Stephen's things, "What can I carry?"

In less time than it would have taken just Stephen and I we had the truck packed.  Box by box.  Step by step.  Community at its finest.

I think of all the people who come to the seminary and all the people who leave.  And all their boxes.  All the hands that carry and lighten the load.  Trinity's mission statement says that the seminary forms leaders for Christ's church at work in the world.  I, for one, know that there are church leaders scattered throughout the US and the world who are serving God's people - one step at a time, lightening the load for others, and sharing lots of laughs.

I learned lots of helpful and insightful lessons in seminary, and even some not-so-helpful things, but perhaps most importantly, that which will carry me through ministry and transitions, blessings and challenges, will be the gift of moving and carrying boxes for others.  Knowing how to welcome and how to say goodbye.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Unexpected Blessings

Life is full of the unexpected. 

You're going to be a pastor.
No, not me!

Your step-dad and father will die before you turn 30.

You're going to serve in The Gambia, West Africa for 2 years.
Where in the world is The Gambia? 

You'll be called to be a pastor in Missouri.
Missouri?  Really?

You'll fall in love and marry another pastor.
A clergy couple?  No way!

You'll be engaged in a long-distance relationship and marriage for over 2 years.
You've got to be kidding me.  Married couples live together.

Yet, here I am.  Living in Missouri, a pastor, married, and now anxiously awaiting the day when 2 years and 4 months of a long-distance relationship comes to an end.

My husband, Stephen, graduates from seminary this Saturday.  Three years ago I took my turn robed in cap and gown walking along Main Street with cars honking and family cheering.  Now it's Stephen's turn. 

Graduation is exciting and hopeful.
But so is living together. 
So is being married in the same state.
Or so I've heard. 

Once Stephen graduates we're packing up and starting our life together.  Nine months after our wedding day.  Now granted we have seen each other, and we've talked on the phone every day but 2 during these two years.  But we've missed out on the day-to-day living.  Until now. 

We did it.  Thanks to God.  Thanks to family and friends and time at the farmers' market.  Thanks to skype. 

I'm no expert on relationships but these last two years have provided time for reflection on what's worked for Stephen and I over the distance.  It hasn't been always easy or fun or loving.  There have been many tears.  And frustrations.  And silence.  But also lots of laughs.  And wonderful hugs upon first seeing each other after some time away. 

We learned the important of date nights across the distance.  Date nights over skype eating dinner together and recapping our days.  Date nights going for a walk with phone in hand.  Date nights watching Modern Family together (of course only taking during the commercials!)  What was important was that we set aside time for each other.  Together. 

We remembered the joy in receiving snail mail.  We poured our feelings and love and frustrations on pen and paper.  We saw glimpses of places visited and people met through postcards and pictures.  We took the time to mull over our words and see our writing.  I love talking with the older members in the congregation I serve and their stories of letters collected and saved from years of separated relationships due to military service.  Stephen and I too now have a history of the early years of our relationship. 

We continually gave thanks for family and friends.  Whether it was a late night tearful call to my mom or the middle of the day calls from friends to say hello, we were loved.  And never alone. 

We move forward together, Stephen and I, strengthened and hopeful.  And thankful for the unexpected encounters and experiences to come. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013


It's not every Sunday that one gets to worship with the bishop of the synod and a previous pastor of the congregation one is currently serving.

The morning was spent celebrating God's Spirit moving in the life of the former pastor, Ken.  He's been ordained for 45 years.
          45 years.
               I've got just 2.

A perfect morning to reflect on call.  God's call and claim in our lives.
The mark of the cross on each of us.  The name beloved spoken to our hearts.

One member asked if I was nervous with the bishop and former pastor visiting.  Nope, I was just glad I didn't have to prepare a sermon.

I was also especially glad to have the opportunity to reflect back on my own call and to look forward to the future of the church.

When I was ordained just over two years ago, I remember the hands laid on me for a blessing.  Hands of clergy who nurtured my call, taught, mentored, loved, and supported me over the years.  Hands of  clergy who know the weight and awe of this calling.  Hand of clergy who've walked through the caverns of pain and doubt and through the meadows of hope and joy.  Hands who've held a grieving family and a newborn.  Hands who've offered bread and wine.  Hands of clergy bruised and scarred and healed.  Hands to love.

This morning, I invited the children forward to lay their hands on Ken for a blessing.  Hands of children full of possibility.  Hands of children full of questions and wonder and awe.  Hands of children reaching towards new life and new opportunities.  Hands of children with crayon markings and scrapes and bruises.  Hands open for bread and wine.  Hands drenched in water.  Hands to love.

Yet, what about those who won't know the blessing of the hands placed upon them?  What about my friends who are waiting and wondering if there is a place for them to serve God's people?  What about my friends who've followed God's call and remain outside the welcome of a church because of who they have decided to love?

My heart aches for them.  My heart aches for the church who is slow to realize their gifts and call.

I saw the hands of the children this morning and I saw hands welcoming all God's people.  I saw hope for the future.  For God's church.  I saw the children and I saw future leaders who simply open their hands.

Let's all open our hands, the beggars that we are as Martin Luther said, and open ourselves to God's grace.  For all of us.  

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Dear Trinity


The month of transitions.  The month of parties and celebrations and barbecues.  And not to mention lots of nerves and excitement.  The month of hope. 
My husband Stephen graduates from seminary in just a few short weeks.

Stephen and I both will be graduates of Trinity Lutheran Seminary.  A place near and dear to both our hearts.  How could it not be - for we met at seminary.  We met right outside the doors of the chapel (that's my memory anyway, you'll have to ask Stephen his memory of our first meeting!)

We fell in love.  We got married at the seminary.  And now we're both almost alums. 

So in the midst of the transitions, the hope for our future together, and the gifts passed on through the years of learning, I find it fitting to write a love letter of sorts to the place that shaped me for leadership in the church. 

Dear Trinity Lutheran Seminary,

I remember our first meeting.  You greeted me with your tree-lined, winding walkway.  It was a summer day and I was scared.  I was a sixteen year old walking towards three weeks away from my family.   A sixteen year old filled with fear, worry, and excitment.  I would be attending the Summer Seminary Sampler.  Three weeks with other high schoolers and seminary counselors learning about God and vocation and serving the world.

There I went up the walkway towards the beginning of our relationship.

I would have been the first one to tell you that I would never go to seminary to be a pastor.  Never.  But I would go to seminary to be with other high schoolers, to take classes, to serve the Columbus community, and to learn from mentors.  I would go to seminary to expand my definition of God and community.  

So, first of all, Trinity, thank you for opening your doors to a searching and thirsty high schooler in need of knowing that God loves me.  Loves all of us.  Thank you for showing me that faith and questions of God are meant to be discussed and laughed over and shared late-at-night in a dark chapel or over a picnic dinner.  Thank you for sparking a fire within me. 

Following the Seminary Sampler program, Trinity continued to shape me in the relationships I developed with the professors and the campus pastor.  Through college you kept in touch with me and reminded me that my gifts were valuable.  You encouraged me to see the whole world as a place to share God's love.  And when I decided that just maybe, maybe, seminary would be a place for me, you were there with a variety of programs and ways to be a leader in the church.  You were there to welcome me and my specific gifts.    

Following college and Peace Corps service, I once again found myself meeting you with your tree-lined, winding walkway.  Yet, then, at 24, I no longer was uncertain as to what I would find behind the entrance.  Of course I had questions about theological education and my classmates and the classes and all the requirements that had to be done.  But I also knew that I was walking towards a place of welcome and hope, and challenge.

Thank you for introducing me to a wide variety of leaders in the church.  For my classmates and colleagues.  For the late nights singing together, for the early morning classes, for praying before each class, for the talent shows, and the daily worship, and wondering about how God could call such diverse people, for the endless readings and papers, for the chance to practice our prayer positions and presiding at weddings and funerals, for the cookouts and bonfires, and for all the children in the courtyard.  

Yes, thank you for the children in the courtyard.  And that pogo stick.  Yes, you know what I'm talking about.  Those early mornings and those late nights and all the time in between bouncing on the pogo stick trying to get the most hops.  If it wasn't for those children and that pogo stick I might not be as patient of a pastor as I am.  If it wasn't for those children and that pogo stick I might not know what it is to play as a form of ministry.

Thank you Trinity for all the frustrations that come from living in community.  You know, all the miscommunication, all the hurt feelings, all the comparisons, and all those who think they know exactly how everything should be done.  There was never a dull moment!  Yet, when we gathered around the table for bread and wine, water and word, in our diversity we were gathered by a God, a triune God, who welcomed and continues to welcome each of us.  Dirty, messy, hopeful, striving, searching, and beloved community. 

I wouldn't be where I am today if not for you, dear Trinity. 

Keep opening your doors.  Keep welcoming.  And keep believing in the God who walks with each us; who marks us with the sign of the cross; who forms and shapes us to be sent into the world bearing the love of redeeming and healing grace.