Thursday, August 30, 2012


What a long week! Lots of meetings, but no exciting places to report this week, and yet I've found inspiration here in Johnston County, North Carolina.

I just finished up this paper, and I had to write about longings for church - you know, the kind of things that church nerds get excited about! Some of these longings are in WMCC already. And, some of these longings are wishes. I'll let you see if you can figure out which is which.

I long for a church where following Jesus is something creative and something that is occasionally spontaneous. I long for a place where I can use my own creativity – with colors and music and pictures and words. I long for a place where we share how biblical stuff starts to breathe into our own lives. I long for a place where we talk about spiritual principles like forgiveness and compassion and mercy, and we listen to stories about how we practice or do not practice those things in our lives. I long for a place where we are each other’s inspiration. I long for a place where both the “spiritual but not religious” AND the “religious but not spiritual” can engage each other and learn from each other. I long for a community of faith that just sizzles with enthusiasm.

I think the phrase that stands out for me in all of that is "I long for a place where we are each other's inspiration." I've seen it happen. I've seen acts of kindness that can move me to tears. I've seen acts of selflessness that ooze with the love of God. I've seen acts of wisdom that lift me to higher ground.

I think of one of our church members who is no longer living and yet had the ability to transform YOU into a better person when you were in her presence.

Yeah, that's it. That's church - the place where we are each other's inspiration.

Sunday, August 26, 2012


What a full day! I got to church early this morning to study up on the lesson for Pastor's Class. We were discussing the Holy Spirit, and I have not felt like my lessons so far have been overly exciting...and the Holy Spirit really IS exciting, but how do you talk about that in a way that makes sense to middle schoolers? I think we found some common ground with a couple of Harry Potter clips. The Weasley's fireworks were a good start!

Then, we had church, and I am so glad that the summer crowd is about to morph into the fall crowd. Afterwards...nominating committee and worship committee...a short walk with sweet Max...

....and then, finishing up a paper. Not just any paper. My LAST paper due for the summer session. That means my last paper due for my doctoral classes. That means my doctoral classes are over. Oh, yes, I still have to go for my colloquiums this fall to plan for my professional project and dissertation. But, the classwork is OVER! From this point on, it is all dissertation!

I've put off reading the books I borrowed from the Drew library until this paper was done and dusted. But, now, I can start reading and planning and moving on. You know, last year at this time, I was anxious about starting and anxious about meeting all of these new people. For introverts like me, meeting lots of new people all at once is exhausting. But, it's done - I'm in it now - the three week intensive is over - and I think I can finish.

God is good.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Here a meeting, there a meeting....

Lots of church meetings right now - on Sunday afternoons - at night. I have a love/hate relationship with meetings. I hate them when they drone on and on in circles or when they inspire people to take sides. Those things can happen in meetings anywhere. Churches don't have a monopoly on that.

But, churches do have a higher probability of something really beautiful happening in meetings. Yeah, I'm a church nerd. And, yeah, meetings are not my favorite. But, sometimes....sometimes, something happens.

Someone prays a prayer that ushers in a new spirit.
Someone shares from the heart and the mood changes.
Someone offers a surprise act of generosity.
Someone speaks to how they think God might be guiding them.
Someone prays for God to guide them.
Someone actively looks for how God is moving right then.

The Holy Spirit blows in.

I don't know. It just seems to me that when church meetings get bogged down, God has been left out of the picture, and when church meetings take off, God is right there in the center moving in ways we could not imagine.

I wish I could figure out how to tap into that every time. One author I read over the summer suggests that churches struggle with letting God into meetings because we do not really believe that God is actively at work. So, we don't allow space for God to work. Once a conversation starts, we seldom stop to pray or listen. But, sometimes, God still finds a way to crash the meeting.

So, I've just been wondering - how can we create a space in this kind of setting where people can encounter God? How can we create an atmosphere for a meeting that still has a little worship dripping in?

I haven't figured it out, but I suspect it has something to do with prayer...and maybe cupcakes.

Anyway, FUN meeting tonight with CWF!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Nursing homes

For the past couple of weeks, I've had the opportunity to spend more time in a nursing home setting. This atmosphere makes some people uncomfortable, but I guess I am lucky that in my previous career with the state, I went into nursing homes all the time to do investigate complaints (doesn't THAT sound like a fun job?). Nobody was happy with us. The staff hated to us coming. And, if we were unable to substantiate the complaint, the families did not much like us either.

But, the residents were a different story. Part of my job was simply to talk with them. They liked us! I still remember some of those personalities...the lady in Pfafftown who knew my grandmother, the man in Chapel Hill who was a veteran, and the young man in Fayetteville with a brain injury who just wanted to go home.

I got very used to walking into nursing homes, pulling up a chair, and listening and talking.

That's ministry, you know - pulling up a chair and listening and talking. It doesn't get put on the church calendar. It doesn't result in recruitment of church members. It does not result in a new building. It does not result in a bigger budget. That kind of ministry doesn't do anything for what often gets referred to as the three B's of church: 1) building; 2) budget and 3) butts in pews.

But, the more I think about the kind of ministry that Jesus did, the more convinced I am that it is in the little bits of compassion where he springs to life today. That's where people feel cared for. That's where people believe they matter, too. That's where people know that they are not only not forgotten, they are REMEMBERED. When two people sit together - talking, holding hands, or even just in silence, it is sacred. It is worship. When we remember others, we remember Jesus, and there's nothing grander that we ever do. I needed to be reminded of that today.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Accidental Napper

Well, this afternoon did not go at all as planned. I was all set to have an afternoon of finishing up a draft of this paper I have due very soon. I decided once I got home from church that I was really tired and a nap might be in order. BIG mistake. I never take more than 30-minute naps...I slept for almost 2 hours. Unbelievable! Then, I was groggy and dopey. So, the upshot is that I must have a really productive week.

The truth is I hit the ground running when I got home last weekend. And, I haven't really stopped to rest and have some down time. So, maybe my nap wasn't a total waste of time. I do hate that I let the afternoon slip away.

Part of it, too, is that I'm not feeling inspired on this paper. We're supposed to do some research on where we live and then plan a ministry to reach the 'post-moderns." And, post-modern can mean so many things, but I believe in the context of this assignment, it refers to those people who have little use for the church - they are not bad people or mean people. They are just people who have other things to do.

I've got a lot of friends who fall into that category. They have lake houses and soccer games, and some just like having Sunday mornings at home with a cup of coffee, jazz music, and the newspaper. Some of them have been hurt by the church or angered by the church's public response to various things. But, some of them pray. Some of them read their bibles. Some of them think about God. And, some of them even go to church every now and again, but as for really belonging to a family of faith, they just are not interested. They have community in their neighborhoods, and they have a sense of belonging in the time they spend together on the weekends.

I've had trouble thinking of ways to reach this group. Then, I thought, I don't need to "reach" this group, I need to listen to them and build relationships with them. Church is changing because the world is changing. What are we called to be for this world? How much intentional change does that involve on our part?

Those are questions to ponder...but the problem is I don't have time to ponder them much before this paper is due. I see why I preferred a nap today.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Knowing more

As I have been working on Sunday's sermon, I realize how often I put my own questions into what I want to share. I can't help but think of the remarks that one of my classmates made - he is an associate pastor, and he preached a sermon in which he asked questions. Afterwards, the senior pastor pulled him aside and said, "It's ok to preach your questions, but just make sure that THEY know that YOU know more than they do."

That strikes me as a statement full of self-grandeur. Make sure they know you know more? Seriously? Maybe the preacher has had more classes in Bible stuff (and maybe not), but when it comes to KNOWING spiritual stuff, that's a level playing field. I hope that I have a spiritual life that I can share. And, I hope that God can do something with the words I blurt out to spark something spiritually in my listeners, but I have questions, too. I have doubts, too. And, I don't always know the right thing to say or how to pray or any of that. The only thing that makes me any different from anybody else in the congregation is that my faith is really public, by nature of the job. I don't always like that, but that's just a fact. But, having faith that is public does NOT mean knowing more than anybody else.

And, why would a minister want to be sure that the congregation knows how much he/she knows? Really. That smells of control and self-importance.

For ministers, the congregation is not just an employer. The congregation is our family of faith, too. It's where we struggle and it's where we grow in confidence. But, good googly moogly, if we have to worry about showing how much we know in our own families of faith - that's some pressure right there!

So, I am thankful to be in a congregation that asks questions and that allows me to ask questions. God is big. Jesus is big. The Holy Spirit is big. So big that none of us will ever take it all in on this side of eternity. And, that's ok.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Still blogging

Wow, I can't believe how quickly how settled back into routine. Of course, I moved into Drew Summer Session routine really fast and immediately had habits...used the same sink every time I brushed my teeth, put my stuff in the same corner of the fridge, sat in the same spot in the classrooms...oh, the list goes on and on.

I don't know if this means I am adaptable or just a creature of habit. But, it makes me think about faith and stuff - I wonder how many routines I've settled into - without question. Do I pray the same way every day? Do I worship the same way? Do I go through the same motions? Is my faith just a fill-in-the-blank kind of thing with the date changed at the top? I'm just sayin!

I'm not suggesting that routine is bad or good...I'm suggesting that it is easy to fall into. As for what any of that means, I have no idea.

On the non-pondering side of life, it has been GREAT to be back home. The Mister is just about finished with our kitchen floor, and all of our appliances are hooked back up. Not that I intend to cook. But, I could. If I wanted to.

I've got to work on a paper this weekend. It's the last one due for the summer session. It's part research, part personal reflection...on what we hope the future of our ministry will be. I'm curious as to what I'll come up with - I mean, I think about the future, but I don't write anything down. I hope I get a lot done on it in the next couple of days. One thing I've learned about writing these papers, 80% of it is just forcing yourself to sit down and do it.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Home sweet home

Home at last! Through a GPS mishap, I ended up driving through Washington DC yesterday at rush hour...there was nothing rushed about that, let me tell you. I spent almost 3 hours in the DC area, and that set me back. So, my best plans of driving home and processing these last few weeks and thinking about all that I heard and read, pffft. Down the drain! I had to stay alert and oriented which was best achieved in the last few hours of my drive by listening to the 80's on 8 at Sirius XM. Lucky for me, they were counting down the top 40 from 1988 which was right in the middle of college years. So, I knew all the songs and sang as loud as I could until I pulled into our driveway at around 11:15 PM. And, Max was at the door waiting...just about to wag his tail off. I mean, family members can hug you, cats can let you pick them up...but a dog wagging a tail in joy of your arrival? Beautiful!

Today I've not felt like doing a lot - I will say that I've taken three two far. LOVE not wearing flip-flops and not having to tote a shower caddy at all times. It is so good to be home, back with familiar faces, familiar roads, and finally a home cooked meal! YUM! And, the Mister has been working very hard on replacing flooring in our living room (which looks stellar - I won't be embarrassed to invite you all over anymore) and in our kitchen...which will look spectacular. It's just taking a little time to finish up.

I think I'm ready for church tomorrow - hope to get back in my groove this week. More later -

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Homeward bound...almost

Last peanut butter and jelly sandwich (which I've eaten every day I've been here). Last walk on my lovely little path. Last night in the dorm! Praise God from whom all blessings flow, and I'll sing a little Hallelujah as I put my flip-flops on for the last trip to the shower. After class, I packed up all that I could - certainly cannot put the coffeepot away until tomorrow morning. But, with my slow dismantling of my room, I think I can get completely out with only 2 more trips to the car. Then, we've got class until noon, and then we are outta here!

I think it's pretty impressive to complete nine class hours in three weeks. Somehow, I thought we'd have, you know, like a little time for a little fun. But, we are all such nerds that it's been all business.

Today's class ROCKED. I'm telling you, I love this teacher. We watched a couple of Harry Potter clips today - one was this one:

If you've seen the movie, you know that Harry and his friends start to meet outside of class to practice the things they want to know how to do. We talked about that little group as church - helping each other, correcting each other, being in community...and then our professor said, "So, you can minister in a group like this...or you can be the lady in pink. (remark met with silence and big eyes) OK, take a break!"

Brilliant! We've really dug into what is church in our world? What does it mean? What difference does it make?

In both good and scary ways, the conversations have been thought provoking for me.

I guess that gives me something to think about on the drive home tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Two more nights

Almost....there....I think I can, I think I can. Not that I am anxious to come home, but I have already started to load my car! Today was kind of gloomy - cloudy and then stormy and then rainy. But, it the midst of all of that, a few of us went to lunch in the little town of Madison, and one of my classmates treated us all! That was really nice. That reminds me - I need to visit an ATM tomorrow to get some cash to pay all those tolls on my drive home. I hope I've programmed my GPS correctly - I want to drive home on a different route than the one that I drove up. So, we'll see...

In class, we took a field trip on the internet. None of us ended up where we started - it was an exercise in the post-modern world.

We have had some really good discussions in this class, and the professor has promised that we will get to the hope. I'm ready for the hope. It's read history. You read what is happening now. You read about the future. And, then you read about the cycles that just keep repeating themselves. And, you wonder what faith really looks like and feels like. Well, maybe you don't wonder, but I do! I wonder if there is a difference between Christian issues and Jesus issues...hmmm, future sermon material there!

Anyway, it's been thought provoking, and I've taken good notes, so I can chew on it all after I get home.

Two papers turned in today, one for Friday, and I'll have one left.

I'm on it!