the rest of the story

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Last week was A Week.  You know what I mean, the sort where dinner looks like a bowl of cereal most nights, where you don’t even have time to add things to your to-do list because they all seem to need done Now.  Coffee flows in abundance; patience and rest, well, not so much.  We had funerals for two beloved women in our community last week, and I found my time filled with countless conversations and plans to thank God for them in a way that was both respectful and personal.  Of course, there was all the usual Sunday activity, including installing and ordaining new elders, and a Presbytery committee meeting to boot.  I find that weeks like last week show me just how much this ministry gig (allow my ridiculous rockstar parallels, will ya?) is so much bigger than any one person.

I realize how much the Spirit fills the gaps my forgetfulness or exhaustion leave, and how somehow, God always shows up.  And when She does (the word for Spirit in both Hebrew and Greek is feminine, so you’re getting a ‘She’ here, y’all) show up, surprising things happen.  Like laughter when tears are more expected.  Like an entire congregation on their feet, clapping in unison and smiling as “Oh Happy Day” is sang in all its soul-stirring glory.  Like a hug that expresses an awful lot, or a quiet word that expresses just as much.  Like a community gathering around a family, not because they feel they should or because they think God demands it of them, but because it’s as natural as breathing.  You take care of each other.  Especially when someone we love passes from this life, you take care of each other.  And, let’s face it, little conveys care quite as much as a glorious confectionary creation of cool whip and oreos or a delightfully cheesy casserole.

It was a week.  God was good.  She showed up.

I didn’t get a day off last week, which does happen sometimes.  What I did get was an hour off in which to play guitar on Friday.  I take guitar lessons from my buddy Darrell at a local music shop on Fridays, mostly so that time is filled with something enjoyable (that means I will take that time off on a regular basis).  As I entered the music shop, a bit rough around the edges and dark under the eyes, I saw a man who often repairs instruments for Darrell.  I can’t recall his name, but let’s call him Presbyterian Elder Man.  That’s what he is — an elder at a large church in a town not-too-far away.  We’ve talked God and church before, which, of course, is something I’ll do any ol’ day (even if it is my day off).  He asked how I was, and refusing to play the superficial game we often play with that question, I was honest.  “Actually, tired.” I said.  He then embarked upon a thoughtful diatribe on how the work of ministry is never done, and how “we just have to keep going ALL the time (his emphasis), never stopping, because God never does.”

I listened, and smiled, but then countered a bit, “Yes, but Jesus took time off.”

“Yeah, but not very often!” he said.

“Hmm.  But Sabbath — rest — is one of God’s commandments, right up there with don’t kill anyone and don’t take what’s not yours.”

“Yeah, I hear ya,” he replied, “But still, we never get to stop.  At least I don’t.  I tell myself I always need to be doing more and more, as much as I can.”

On the outside, this comment is admirable.  Here is someone who takes his call seriously, who sees every opportunity as a chance to be open to where God’s Spirit leads.  But here also, perhaps, is someone whose faith has been co-opted by a cultural, and not spiritual, value.  That cultural value is simple, and we see it in everything from University of Phoenix commercials to teenagers involved in 6 extracurricular activities at the same time.

You are what you do.

Nothing more, nothing less.  You must DO because being is doing — you don’t exist apart from your accomplishments.  And that, I write to myself here, is dangerous ground for anyone, especially someone in this whole ministry gig.

We are so not what we do.  We are so much more than that.  We are the breath of God’s Spirit within each of us.  We are the image of God reflected back in the face of everyone we meet.  We are insanely busy weeks and we are non-productive days, and days somewhere in between.  We are God’s hands and feet in this world, yes, but we are not God.  Guess who is?  God.  That’s it.  Not you, not me, not even the greats of our time who have worked seemingly-tirelessly for justice like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Pope Francis.

It’s a great relief to realize that we’re more than what we do.  It means that I’m still a bearer of God’s light in the world as I sit here resting, blogging, eating warm chocolate chip cookies and drinking tea.  It means that I don’t have to earn God’s favor on my work.  For my pastor peeps, allow me to repeat that: We don’t have to earn God’s favor on our work.  Sure, we spend time, and rightly so, seeking to in some ways meet the expectations of the communities we serve, to be faithful to them in that way.  But not so with God — She says we are enough.  (The word for this, in case you were wondering, is grace.)  And even when we don’t feel like we are, She shows up.  She always will.

And I like to think that, after a week like last week, She invites me to curl up in front of a warm fire and smiles, saying, “Rest, now.  Don’t be tempted by the idolatrous path of busyness and works-righteousness.  Just eat those cookies, drink that tea, waltz with that fella, walk that dog and rest.  Not because you’ve earned it, because honey, it’s never been about that.  Rest because I demand it.”

I like this God.  I like Her a lot.

(p.s. While this blog will continue to be a place I record moments of holiness on a regular basis a’la ‘glimpses of grace’, I’m enjoying stretching my legs beyond simply writing a few sentences at a time.  I hope you don’t mind.)

found in translation

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This morning’s sunrise.

Good morning, chickadees.  Are you warm and cozy?  I hope so.

As I sit sipping coffee (surprise, surprise) from a mug lovingly made by my talented friend Jill and watch the sunrise set a dark sky afire with oranges and pinks, I’m feeling reflective.  The past couple of months have been something of a spiritual pilgrimage for me.  I thought I’d share a bit with you about that journey.  It began with a physical one — back to my wee home across-the-pond, Belfast, at the end of November.  We minister-types get continuing education support for things that tend to our souls, minds and bodies and going to Northern Ireland was to be one such opportunity.  It was designed to be a week of delving deep into my own spirituality with a pastor friend there, and discerning how we might connect with our Creator and our congregations in more profound and authentic ways.  My week there was also generously peppered (foodie, here) with beloved friends, with me filling every possible nook and cranny with coffees, lunches, glasses of wine and dinners in which the goal was laughter and catching up.

I had great hopes that such a week would refresh my soul and spirit, in the particularly sarcastic and delightful way that only Northern Ireland can.  What I experienced there was something even greater.  To be invited to retrace one’s steps in life, to walk back through times of challenge and joy, is a gift.  It makes you see yourself, not as you’ve been and not as you would like to be, but exactly as you are.  As I preached in Fitzroy, donning that collar that used to be so uncomfortable but seemed as natural as can be there, speaking with folks whose names seemed to just appear out of the ether to me as I saw their face once more, and celebrating all God has continue to do in that place, I felt completely at ease in my own skin.  I did not feel like the past few years had changed me in any marked ways, but we rarely see change in ourselves, right?  We recognize it in the eyes of another.  So, those Fitzroy folk showed me that I had in fact changed, not in massive ways, but in the subtle ways of being more at ease, more myself, more at home in my role as a minister.

As the week wound down, Steve (the pastor of Fitzroy and a good friend) and I gathered for the last time and prayed together.  Prayer is a funny animal, y’all.  Perhaps not all the time, but sometimes, strange things happen.  Now, I know, I’m Presbyterian…prayer isn’t usually a metaphysical experience for us, but often sounds more like reading a page from John Calvin’s diary.  But something happened during that prayer.  I was praying out loud and, after a week of intense discussion around congregational dynamics and the role of a minister, I heard myself say something I’d never said before.  I prayed, “God, help me translate anxiety into vision.”  Hmm.  Those really weren’t my words.  They just came.  And I would say from the Divine.  I felt that, in those few words, I realized why I was meant to come back to visit Belfast, and why it would impact my role in lovely Cameron.  Anxiety into vision.

I think a lot of what ministers do is bear the anxiety of others.  I don’t mean this to sound like a negative thing — it’s not in the least.  It’s just that so much of what happens in a church, from intense pastoral care conversations to worries about bulletins or committee meetings or this-person or that-person, stems from anxiety.  Because anxiety is part of the human condition.  And as such, it can be either degenerative or generative.  It can immobilize us with fear and worry of what we can’t control, or it can push us to newness: new energy, new courage, new vision.  I began, through that prayer, to see my role as a minister as a bearer of the anxiety of others, of our church, our community and the world, who then listens to the Spirit to help translate and transform that which causes our stomach to flip into that which causes our worldview and patterns of living to flip.  Flip from anxious to hopeful, from worried to energized, from greedy to generous, from conflict-generating to reconciling, and so on, and so on…

(Okay, this is getting long, go get thyself another cup of coffee…)

And so I returned from Belfast, more at home here than ever, more at home in my own skin than ever.  And I dove into Advent, that season of expectant hope for God coming to become one of us.  I shared my sense of call to translate anxiety into vision with my Session.  I taught Bible studies and preached and visited and packed food boxes for our community and even danced.  I also happened to fall in love, but that’s a story for another time.

December was a flurry of activity, and beneath it all, that call kept coming: “Translate anxiety into vision.”  And then, just like that, Christmas was over.  The child was born!  The world was filled with hope!  And the pastors were exhausted.  I hopped a plane to Texas to ring in the new year with family and that was a much-needed and cathartic visit.  I’m so grateful for my family.  And then I hopped a plane back again and celebrated my 32nd birthday by dancing with a certain someone until my cheeks hurt from laughing.

The next morning, I was up bright (well, a bit dim, really) and early and ready to do my Sunday thing.  The church surprised me with beautiful flowers and sang me a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday (after which I offered to blow out the candelabra and make a wish).  The celebration of Epiphany was joyful and the birthday lunch after church was delicious.  So, so much love there.  I came home and napped like the old 32-year-old that I am (I kid) and then saw on Facebook that my friend Marci was giving out Star Words for the new year.  You can learn about them on her blog, here.  These are words that will guide our connection with the Divine for the next year, words we will ponder in prayer and discernment.  I asked Marci to randomly select a word for me, something to guide my thoughts and prayers in the coming year.

My word?  Vision, of course.