a penny for your thoughts

A forgotten playground inhabited by joyful little birds.

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Going outside of the coffee shop where I was working to return a phone call and pacing, as I’m wont to do when talking on the phone.  When I did stop, I looked down, and there was a happy heads-up penny ready to bring me luck.

ImagePerhaps it was immediately effective, because I had a good chat with another coffee shop regular and he bought me a delicious brownie.  People have incredibly goodness to share if we’ll stop walking in circles round each other and actually have a conversation.

A Presbyterian Women’s Officers meeting at Juanita’s house with dinner that ended with many parting hugs.

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nailed it

ImageHow the simple act of painting my nails makes me feel more feminine and stylish.

Folks at church asked to hear more about my experience in Belfast so for Sunday School yesterday, I walked them through my time there, told in people, places and food.  It’s a wonderful thing to be asked to look back on your journey and share it with others.

Talking to my niece Natalie on the phone last night:
“Guess what, Weeza?”
“What, Nat?”
“I’m going to BIG SCHOOL TOMORROW!”  (She’s starting Kindergarten today, and is so excited.)

Falling asleep with a cool breeze drifting in the window, carrying with it the sound of a forlorn night train and a symphony of frogs.

the best dreams are never forgotten

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Fleecy clouds unlike any I’ve seen before.  I posted these pictures on facebook and was amused that several other folks in my area did the same thing at the same time.  Nature is a showstopper.

Driving with a church member with me to visit another member living in a retirement home and watching the history of Cameron come to life before my eyes.  She pointed out all sorts of memories as we drove along, like the bridge where, on a double-date as teenagers, the driver went too fast around a curve and crashed his new car (no one was hurt).  And the adorable little blue house I pass every day that she and her husband lived in for ten years.  And the old hotel where the gentlemen used to have a drink in the evenings.  What vivid memories for her.  It’s no wonder she loves this little town so much.

Having a dream so vivid and real, peppered with people I know and care about, that I woke up feeling I had really traveled quite far in my slumber last night.  I’m somehow more adventurous this morning.

tour de tucson

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Goodness, I’ve been traveling a lot, y’all!  This time, I was off to Tucson, Arizona to take part in a Missional Preaching Seminar.  Arriving in Arizona was like arriving on another planet: everything was painted a dusty peach color, cacti of every possible shape and variety dotted the bare landscape and rocky mountains jutted up like pyramids out of the sand.  It was unlike any place I’ve been, and utterly beautiful in its own way.  ImageImageImageImage

As you can see, the resort hotel they put us up in was stunning.  
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A sudden (and rare) rainstorm appeared, turning bare earth into flooded areas in mere minutes.  The contrast of dry and drenched, sun-dappled and dark cloud-covered was stunning.ImageImageImageAnd something monumental happened in Tucson…I had my first In-N-Out burger!  They are famous all over the west coast (especially California) and when one of the conference organizers suggested we go there for lunch before I had to preach the rest of the day away, I said YES.  It was delicious, with their own special sauce akin to Thousand Island.  Yum.


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And for something a little more Tucson…this was my breakfast taquito one morning.  I’ve never seen a grilled tortilla before, but it was love at first sight (and bite)!Image

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Perhaps the best part of my two days there was getting to meet up with the fabulous Ellen.  We were both Young Adult Volunteers (her in Guatemala, me in Belfast) and had not seen one another in 8 years.  She’s the campus minister at University of Arizona, and we had the best time catching up.  Life has taken us many places in the past 8 years.  She’s just a delightful human being.  It was wonderful after all that preaching was done to gather in the hotel lobby with folks from the conference and Ellen with glasses of wine and chat the night away.

ImageAnd I made it home again.  I plan on staying put for a while.  Traveling is fun, but so is this Carolina life.

A sermon for the “spiritual, but not religious.”

This sermon was part of a missional preaching seminar hosted by the Presbyteries of De Cristo and Grand Canyon in Tucson, Arizona, with support from the Worldwide Ministries Division of P.C.(U.S.A.).

Each of us speakers was asked to select a “people group”, a text that might speak to them and craft a sermon directed to that group of people, as a way of modeling missional preaching to pastors and elders attending the seminar.  My “people group” was young adults in their 20’s and 30’s (sometimes termed “Millennial’s”) who self-identify as being “spiritual, but not religious.”  I am not sure that a sermon is the best way to engage this group of passionate and disillusioned folks, but here is my attempt.

Prayer for Illumination

God, we have before us an ancient book, one that can lead us in many different directions.  At times, this book is used to make us feel good and comfortable just as we are.  At others, it is used to point fingers at those we disagree with.  And often, like any ancient book, it just sits in the corner, gathering dust, willed into irrelevance.  But somehow, O God, this is not just any book.  Somehow, your Spirit breathes through it and it becomes your Word to us, here, now, today as much as it ever was your Word to others so long ago.  So help us to dust off these pages, to hear them with fresh ears and open hearts, that we might find within them the courage to be more than we are.  Speak through this Word, Spirit, for we long to hear from you, Amen.

Amos 5:6-15, 21-24

Seek the Lord and live, or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire, and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it.
 Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood, and bring righteousness to the ground. 

The one who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning, and darkens the day into night, 
who calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out on the surface of the earth,
the Lord is his name,
 who makes destruction flash out against the strong, so that destruction comes upon the fortress.

They hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.
 Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, 
you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them;
 you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine.
 For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins—
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate.
 Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time.

Seek good and not evil, that you may live; 
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said.
 Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate;
 it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; 
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon.
 Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 
But let justice roll down like waters, 
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Sermon:

I am weird.  It’s true.  I have the opening sentence from the Hobbit plastered on my living room wall.  I often refer to my dog as “my child” and force pictures of him upon total strangers.  (Don’t worry, I’ll show you later.)   I read Game of Thrones, adore Doctor Who and consider Hermione Granger to be a hero.  Like I said, a bit weird.  But my weirdness doesn’t really come from all of that.  It mostly comes from what I do.

You see, I’m a pastor.  And anyone will tell you, pastors are weird.  There’s little that’s normal about us.  This is especially evident on an airplane.  I often wind up seated next to a person who will, without fail, spill their life story to me because of this strange profession of mine.  You know how the perfunctory small talk goes:

“So, are you headed home to (insert destination here)?”

And then…“What do you do?”

(At this point, I can assume that “Read Game of Thrones and cook Thai food” is not the intended answer.)

Sometimes, when I’m tired or grumpy, I say I’m in “non-profit work” and leave it at that. 

But usually, I tell them the truth.  It’s quite fun to watch their reaction, really it is.  Those three words “I’m a pastor” have the same reaction as “I’m an alien” might produce.  They look me up and down, taking in all of my non-male, five-feet-tall glory, and say, “Really?!,” like I would make up doing something so strange.

And then, once the shock has subsided, it begins.  The pouring-out-of-the-life-story-bit.  I hear about how their Grandmother used to take them to church, or how their parents forced them to go as a child, and they used to like it okay.  But then, without much explanation, it sounds like they just grew out of church.  You know, like growing out of believing in Santa or the Easter bunny.  (I hope I haven’t just ruined your day.)

Then every single one of them sums this up well with the same five words.

“I’m spiritual, but not…religious.”

I’m betting many of you might describe yourselves that way.  It’s a wonderful category, really, because it covers a lot of ground.

You can be into yoga and meditation but distrust organized religion.

You can appreciate the mindlessness of Buddhism, pray with Orthodox beads and drink the beer of monks.

You can go to your grandfather’s church on Christmas and Easter and feel profoundly connected with something bigger than yourself, and also get a similar feeling hiking alone in the mountains.

You can think of “God” as the Supreme Being, as Jesus Christ, as Mother Nature, as the Force or as the poor in your city.

“Spiritual but not religious” fits all of these perspectives.

It might just be the most widely used label for our generation.   But guess what?  We’re not the first to use it.  A mistrust of organized religion when it seems “organized” to give the powerful more power, a righteous anger at greed and hatred being labeled as “God’s will”, a frustration with communities who look, think, sing, and speak exactly the same, a belief that religion is completely disconnected from real suffering and struggles (and chooses to be that way): this is an ancient feeling.

We hear it in the words of the prophet Amos.  “I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins — you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate…I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies…take away from me the noise of your songs, I will not listen.”

That’s God speaking through this prophet.  That’s God saying that God is “spiritual but not religious.”  Whoa.  But it’s important to realize that these words are speaking about a very particular kind of “religious.”  They speak of a religion founded on words-without-works, on one-upmanship.  A religion that is co-opts the divine for profit. 

No, not prophet like Amos.  Profit like bottom line.  That particular kind of religious in the time of Amos was a homogenous gathering of the wealthy who went through the motions of praying and sacrificing and worshipping, while cheating the poor through unfair trade agreements and debt programs. 

While building up temples of wealth with good strong locks and security systems, and good strong hateful us-versus-them theology, to keep out the “wrong sort” of folks. 

And do you know what?  That really pissed God off.  It still does.  God didn’t say, through that outspoken prophet Amos, “Um, excuse me, y’all, it’s just, um, that you might practice what you preach a little more, you know, if you don’t mind.  Please.”

God said hate.  And hate is a word God does not use often at all (though we religious folk sometimes use it too much).  God didn’t say God hated the people who were oppressing the poor.  God said “I hate your festivals, your solemn assemblies,” in Hebrew your “chag·gei·chem,” literally meaning, “feasting.”

The Bible never outright says, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”  But this is the closest we ever get to that.  That sin, though, is the sin of feasting while the poor starve right outside the gates.  Of thinking that this is only what it means to be religious.

If this is the only meaning of religion, then no one should ever be religious.  But to let this example of systemic, greedy sin be the only voice of “religion” would be a mistake, like letting the Westboro Baptist Church be today’s only voice of religion.  It’s akin to saying the Twilight series has a monopoly on true love, or that Justin Beiber fully embodies what good music is.  (It’s a lie, y’all!)

Which is why God was so angry!  God knew that the religion of Amos’ day was a lie, that religion should be so much more.  And so God sent prophets. 

God knows that some of religion in mainstream America is a lie.  And so do you.  Allow me to be presumptuous enough to put words in your mouth for a moment: I think this is why you call yourself “spiritual but not religious.”

My word for you today is not that you need to abandon that label.  I’m not going to tell you you’re wrong, because I don’t think you are (and I don’t think God does either.)  I’m not even going to tell you that you need the Church to be spiritual.

But I will tell you this.  We need you.  Religion needs you, just like that self-righteous people needed Amos, way back in the 8th century BCE.  We don’t need you because we want our age demographics to look better, or because we think we have so much to teach you.  We need you because, like Amos, you are our prophets, sent by God.  And no, I don’t mean money-profit. 

I mean you are the ones who bring the vision of religion as it should be.  Not a watered-down, Live Your Best Life Now Joel Osteen religion.  And not a religion of personal relationship with God, detached from the needs of anyone else.

But a religion where our relationship with God is intimately connected to our relationship with the poor, and the silenced, and the judged.  And even, even the hipster.

We need you: your wisdom, your doubts, your questions, your passion to serve others.  Forgive us for not communicating that well.  Now, I know, I promised I wasn’t going to preach at you that you need us.  But, I’m a weird preacher, I warned you.  So I do need to say this:

We are not a perfect community, we religious.  We never were, and we never will be.  But we are here for you, in a way that your Twitter feed and Facebook friends never can be.  We might piss you off sometimes, as we certainly do with God, and we might let you down.  But so will anyone else in your life. 

What we can do is be a radical place of forgiveness, a place to discover the God who cares enough about the world to become one of us in Jesus Christ…a place of healing and hope when that spiritual encounter hiking alone in the mountains gets awfully lonely, when everyone in your yoga class is more concerned with $100 workout clothes than what’s really going on in your life, when another beer, even if it’s a gorgeous hand-crafted IPA, just won’t take away your worries like it used to.  We are here. We are messed up, we are hypocritical, we are obnoxiously opinionated, but we are here. 

You don’t have to come and join the community of weirdoes we call the church.  But you do need to know that we need you, and that, in some forgotten way, you need us too. 

It is time to take back the word religious, like the prophet Amos did, because being spiritual and being religious should not be opposites.  We can only do it together, with prophets like you.  Through you, God will reshape this dry and dusty religion into something alive and new, until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.   Amen.

don’t miss it

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(Thank you, Cathy, for the lovely photo!)

The joy of presiding at the Table.  I hope I never take it for granted.  It’s especially touching to look out on these people I’ve grown to love and watch them take communion, praying that God would fill them.

A cool breeze, good friends around me, a delicious hotdog and the sound of a bat hitting a ball, resulting in uproarious cheering: enough said.

A single comet shooting across the early morning sky like a brief but powerful glimpse of the beyond.

 

attention to detail

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Going to Wine, Paint and Canvas with my friend (and fellow Texan) Erin, which was a positively delightful and utterly relaxing way to while away a Saturday afternoon.  Plus, there’s the magic of coming in to a blank canvas and leaving with your own little work of art.

A bevy of entertaining text messages between my mom, sister and I covering everything from Mexican food for supper, to painting, to Gigi my niece rocking a swimsuit and heels after supper.

Far off clouds illuminated by evening lightning, outlined in stark brilliance and then fading into shadows again.

A litte girl wearing jelly sandals with shiny ribbon intricately woven through them.  Now that is attention to detail!

untold memories

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A delightfully intriguing fortune cookie.

Having my sermon done by noon so that the rest of my day off was a wild, free possibility. It included my guitar lessons, a crepe and settling down in a favorite coffee haunt with Pendergast.

Running into church members at the Piggly Wiggly and whilst walking in the country near my house. I’m a small town gal, y’all.

mo ranch 2013

Your happy place….we all have one.  For some it’s sitting on the beach, digging your toes into the sand and watching the ebb and flow of waves.  For others, it’s sitting at your mother’s kitchen table, or in your favorite chair with a good book.  For me, it is Mo Ranch.  Thankfully, every summer my family gathers at this oasis in the Texan Hill Country.  Every year is good, this year was just the best.  Grab your favorite cap or floppy hat and let’s go… ImageImage

This is the Westminster Lodge, where we call home.  The weather was amazing and cool, so we enjoyed the breeze on that dog run every day.

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Let’s start with the important things: the food!  We each take a meal and this year was more delicious than ever.  Chorizo taquitos, Carolina pulled pork sandwiches, a fish fry, a divine egg/sausage/crescent roll combination, sea salt crusted baked potatoes and more cookies that you can imagine…we did not go hungry, y’all! Image Image

My Grandmother brought this cute apron, wishing for everyone to wear it as they cooked.  And we did!  (Nick is such a good sport.)

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Mmm, monster cookies.

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Adorable little fashionistas.  I have no idea who taught them to put heir hand on their hip.  Ha!

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Full of delicious food, we’re on to the next activity: visiting.  We sat on the dog run and talked while the kiddos played.  I love those conversations.

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Meet Audrey, the newest to join our little reunion!  She is such a joyful, content baby.   (I would be too in that swing!)

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She loves her Maddie.

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And now for the next activity: swimming!  Our little model Olivia (we call her “Livie-Love!”) shows us her patriotic suit.

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Who, me, Niece Paparazzi?  Clearly not.

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Clay looks pretty relaxed.

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Natalie and I enjoyed splashing and playing in the cool water.

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Then there were frosty beverages in the evenings…margaritas and white wine for the adults,

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And sippy cups for the kiddos.

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Beautiful Natalie.

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Our final night, many of us stayed up talking (oh we do that well in our family) until about midnight.  The fellas smoked cigars and us women laughed and told stories (we’ve decided next year we need something special for just us, like champagne!).  It was perhaps my favorite part of the weekend.  I was determined, sleepy though I was, to get up bright (err, I mean dark) and early the next morning to go up to the Chapel on the HIll for the sunrise.  This is a tradition for me on my last morning there spanning back to high school.  My dad and I enjoyed the peaceful beginning to the day.

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Close-up of the cross.

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Can you spot my dad?

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The prettiest picture was found back at Westminster, though.  What a beautiful sun.Image

I kind of have a thing for sunrise pictures.

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But back to more activities…now, reading!  We love our books.  My Uncle Jack read outside, while I climbed into my top bunk all camper-style and read from there.

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Grandmother enjoying the view.

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We went to the Chapel on the Hill again and my talented sista took pictures (coming soon!).

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But there is one activity, more sacred and hallowed than any other in our family, and that, my friends, is drinking coffee!  48 cups per day among all of us, actually.  We love our coffee.   Most of us began this java obsession quite early, so naturally, we pass it down…

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Grant enjoying his morning coffee.  Good lad.

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We always have a puzzle to do as well.  This year it was a peacock in honor of my cousin Bonnie’s wedding (with a bit of a peacock theme).  Lee there was a Puzzle Master.  Note the form, the concentration, the intensity.  Oh yes, she was good.

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We all thought he was an angry looking peacock.

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Luis and Nick, who are now a part of our family since last summer, enjoyed a walk to the rapids.  I sat in those swirling, cool (it was morning-time) waters and let all my worries float on down the river.  I love those rapids.

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Okay, next (and final) activity: Diva Hat Wearing.  I did it okay…

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Gigi girl is a natural, dahhling.

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I pointed out this tree to my nieces and told them it was an elf tree, because it has a little door.  Which is exactly what my Aunt Karen taught me when I was little.  It’s fun to pass on such whimsy.

All in all, a fabulous time was had by all.  I can’t wait for next year!