Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"A Clove of Truth: Stinging Yet Clarifying"

I love to use my blog to do good and help others. So here I offer my official plug about a new online publication a friend of mine is launching on January 1: The Garlic Press (http://garlicpressnews.com).

Yes, that's right. Similar in vein to The Onion, The Garlic Press (http://garlicpressnews.com) will offer entertainment, food for thought...and perhaps a nugget of truth here or there (or so I've been told). After January 1, we will be able to savor the wit and wonder of The Garlic Press every month.

I urge you all to flood the website on New Year's Day, after suitably recovering from the previous night's festivities, of course. My friend the mad creator of this publication will not disappoint, of that I am sure. 

Even better, unlike after consuming real garlic, I ask you to open your mouth and share the wealth. Let people know about this great new thing!


The Garlic Press, http://garlicpressnews.com, January 1, 2009. 

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hair as Identity

My blogger friend PeaceBang recently posted a link to a post at another blog on her own Beauty Tips for Ministers. The posting, from the blog Search the Sea, deals with the writer not knowing who she is, and therefore what clothes to wear, as she grieves.

One commenter noted a link to self-identity and hair, that "the less sure I am of 'me' the less content I am with any hairstyle."

PB also recently posted about the politics of hair in the black church, inspired by a comment by my friend Kym (whose hair, by the way, I've long admired).

Like it or not, hair says something about identity. It can say, "I'm a radical, non-conformist half-hippie chick" or "I religiously follow what Us magazines says all the celebrities are doing with their hair." It can give off a vibrant or dowdy vibe. It can say something about your cultural background--short hair on women is unheard of in some cultures.

So what does my hair say about me? The comment on Search the Sea struck a chord. I've been thinking about my hairstyle a lot lately. This is partly because it's in that in-between growing out stage and has lots of short layers that don't always do what they should. The other morning I when I got out of bed and looked in the mirror, I thought I'd morphed into a member of an 80s hair band. Seriously.

I've thought about cutting it--I actually really liked the short, flippy style I rocked after donating my hair in 2007. It was fun and very easy to care for.

I'm kind of a ponytail type though. I love the way it swings when I go running, and how it pulls my thick hair off my neck in the summer.

Really, though, like the commenter, I think the real issue is about identity, not hair.

What does wearing my hair long say about who I am? It could say I'm young, sexy, have time to commit to styling (even if I don't actually style that much), traditional or free-spirited (depending on how I wear it), stuck in the past, girl next door, not ready to grow up, conformist.

Wearing my hair short could mean I think adult women should have short(er) hair, I'm mature, free-spirited or traditional (same as above), making a statement, short on time, independent.

If I'd had shorter hair when I guest preached, would I have garnered more instant respect? Once they knew me, did it matter?

This summer I had some thick side-swept bangs cut. I grew up with bangs, and couldn't wait to get rid of them as a teenager. Then, around age 21, I tried again...and earned the nickname Winnie Cooper. I'd sworn them off, but decided to give it one more shot. I love them, except for the fact that I can't afford to get them trimmed professionally and so attempt myself. I'm not really sure I'm doing a very good job.

So what do those say about me? Maybe I'm artsy, traditional, young, trend-follower?

I know my hairstyle now doesn't fit me. The problem is, I think I need to be more sure about who "me" really is before I know why--or what style will work.

India.Arie sings "I Am Not My Hair"...but don't you think hair is part of personal identity?

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Widow's Mite...modernized

I don't know if she's a widow, and unlike the story from the Bible, I know her name. It's Therese Currier. Really, I have no idea if she's even old enough to marry. But I think she's pretty special.

Our local paper runs a "Santa Fund" each year in partnership with the Salvation Army and the Nashua Pastoral Care Center to provide Christmas gifts to families in need. Each day, the paper includes a short profile on someone who's being helped by the Santa Fund, as well as a listing of the most recent contributions. I generally scan the lists, looking for interesting dedications--"In memory of my sweet Willoughby, the best dog ever"--or particularly noteworthy sums. There are lots of contributions of $20, $25, $50, a few $100+. The contributions over $1000 are generally from groups or companies. A local copy company recently donated $30,000, for which I'm sure everyone at the Fund is grateful.

Today, though, what caught my eye, was Therese's contribution: $3. Three. Dollars. Now, there are many who may scoff at the amount, wondering what toy or article of clothing can be bought with a measely $3? Well, in my experience, they'd be right--you can't buy much with $3.

But that's not the point. I look at all the other contributions, and I'm grateful for them, and glad people have been generous. Then I wonder how much it meant to them, and how much this $3 meant to Therese. I think of everyone I hear saying they can't afford to give as much--or at all--this year. For many that is certainly true. But again, here's Therese. No, perhaps she couldn't afford to give $20, $25, $100. Maybe she couldn't even afford to give $5. But she gave $3, possibly her only money leftover after paying bills and buying food--or maybe she even gave it knowing it'd be $3 she really couldn't afford. We can imagine it's her mite, all she had.

Alone, that $3 doesn't do much for all the families in need this Christmas. But in the city of Nashua, NH, where the paper is based, there are (as of the 2000 Census) 86,605. 68,507 are 15 or older. Imagine if they each gave $3: that would add up to $205,521. Let's even say only half of those people contributed $3. We'd still have $102,760.50 to help get kids things they need, and some things they just want, for Christmas. And that's just one small city!

So I offer that perhaps when we see an article in the paper, or receive a request for donation to a worthy cause, that before we quickly reply, "Oh, I wish I could, but..." we consider Therese Currier and her $3. We don't have to give big (although hey, if you've got some money hanging around, go ahead and be generous). Jesus--and Therese--remind us that is the act of giving that matters. And like so much else, small actions made by many people can create a big effect.

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Monday, December 01, 2008

Where is God?

What follows is the transcript of the sermon I preached yesterday at the Community Church of Francestown, NH. The texts were Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; Isaiah 64:1-9; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; and Mark 13:24-37.

Happy New Year!

That’s right, today marks the first day of Advent, which begins a new year in the Christian calendar. We’ve come through the long weeks of “ordinary time” since the last big festival, Pentecost, back in May, and now we’ve arrived in Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas.

Usually, these are the weeks when we go through the story of the birth of Jesus: the annunciation to Mary by the angel that she was carrying a child, the meeting between Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, the call by the governor for a census to be taken, the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, where they found no room at the inn and the Christ child was born and placed in a manger. Then the angels announce the birth to the shepherds, and the star shines showing the magi where the child lay so they could offer him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

In our worship services, we sing traditional songs: “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem,” “We Three Kings.” Advent is a time of joy and happiness and the expectation of the birth of a baby.

But the birth narratives we know are found in Matthew and Luke (neither of which, by the way, has the same version). And a new church year, for those of us who follow the lectionary, means a new cycle of texts. This year, with the very creative name of Year B, we begin with Mark, and he skips the story of Jesus’ birth altogether. He begins his book with the baptism, so the Advent texts from his Gospel focus on the other part Advent, the one we often forget amid the drive—in the church and secular worlds—towards Christmas.

Our word Advent derives from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming.” Generally, we apply that to anticipation of the coming of the Christ child, but Advent is also a time to anticipate Christ’s coming again, what Mark calls “the return of the Son of Man.”

I’ll let you in on a little preaching secret—this does not make for an easy sermon, nor does this cycle of texts tend to make congregations all that happy during Advent. I’m guessing many of you here had the same reaction when Susan read the texts this morning as I did when I first looked at them.

I was excited to prepare the service for today. Hey, it’s the first Sunday in Advent! Piece of cake! Some happy “here starts the journey to Bethlehem” stuff, some familiar Christmas carols, a reminder to focus on the spiritual, not the material this season, etc. etc. And then I read the texts.

First the Gospel. Hm, sun and moon darkening, stars falling from the sky, heaven and earth passing away. Ok…not so Christmassy.
Well, surely Isaiah will be fine. We read Isaiah a lot during Advent: there’s all the stuff about a branch growing from the stump of Jesse, preparing the way in the wilderness, about the names that the Messiah shall be called. Nope. It’s all about God hiding from us. Greeeaaat.

Psalm 80? A lamentation, again, asking where God is. The passage from Corinthians? More about waiting for Christ’s return.

So my first reaction was disappointment, annoyance, confusion. This is not what I expect from Advent texts. Perhaps you experienced something similar.

But while our texts this morning are not your typical preparing-for-Christmas texts, they are suitable for Advent, and I think they can speak to us of our relationship with God just as well as the story of God in the form of a little child.

Who hasn’t, at one time or another, or even many times, wondered where the heck God is? Who hasn’t begged, “please God, come fix this!” Who hasn’t asked in prayer, “God, why aren’t you making your presence known?” Who hasn’t questioned if God even cares about us in the middle a crisis?

Personally, there are times I ask exactly the same questions Isaiah was asking. We read in the Bible of the Red Sea parting to allow the people of Israel to escape, of God’s appearance to Hagar as she fought death in the wilderness, of all the miracles Jesus performed. Isaiah pleads,

“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.”

Isaiah’s saying, “Come on God. You used to do all these big things for our ancestors. Maybe people wouldn’t be sinning so much if you were doing that kind of thing now. Big gestures, that’s what we need! Mountains trembling!”

There are many times when I want a big gesture, an obvious miracle, a big flashing neon sign of God’s presence and action in the world.

Tomorrow, December 1, is World AIDS Day. 2008 marks the 20th anniversary of the recognition of the day to bring awareness to the HIV/AIDS crisis. Now, here I’m going to admit my youth: I grew up knowing about AIDS. I have few memories before the time when AIDS was known and named. I don’t believe I ever thought it’d be the epidemic it has grown to now, however. In developing areas of the world, AIDS is destroying whole countries of people. Millions of children are being left orphaned by AIDS, and often are fighting and dying of the disease themselves. Even here in the United States, one of the most educated and wealthy countries in the world, the Center for Disease Control estimates that in 2006, there were 56,300 people newly infected with HIV. That adds to more than one million estimated people already infected as of 2003, of whom about 25% --one quarter—were unaware of their infection.

Panels are still being added to the AIDS Memorial Quilt, now over 1.2 million square feet in size. If you were to spend one minute looking at each panel of the quilt, it would take you over 33 days to see the whole thing.

Where is God?

During this past week, we watched as a tragedy unfolded in Mumbai, India. Multiple attacks were carried out, including one at a Jewish center which killed a rabbi and his wife and left their two year old son orphaned. As of the most recent count, almost 200 people have died, and more than 300 are injured.

Where is God?

Over the last few years we’ve seen people and places devastated by natural disasters: fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, a tsunami.

Where is God?

In the ongoing worldwide financial catastrophe, we’ve watched as our friends, neighbors, and family members have lost jobs, as people struggle to find work, to make ends meet, to simply put food on the table.

Where is God?


Isaiah reminds us, as he reminds God, “O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

Kate Huey, in her reflection on these texts writes, “No matter how bad things are, we are reminded that we belong to God, that all the earth belongs to God, and we believe that God breaks into this reality regularly.”

Isaiah was looking for grand gestures. We often hope for the same. Sometimes we get it: the end of apartheid might be one example, or the peace accord in Northern Ireland.

But more often than not, the Divine breaks into the earthly realm with far more subtlety.
This is Advent, remember? A time to remember God’s manner of incarnation. The people at the time of Jesus’ birth were expecting something big from the coming Messiah.

Instead God broke into the world through a young poor unknown woman named Mary, who gave birth to a boy-child not in the comfort of a palace as people expected, but in a stable or a cave. Simple. Humble. Unassuming.

Remember when Jesus gives his first teaching? “Who is this?” the crowds say. “Isn’t that just Joseph’s son?” Not the Messiah they were looking for, it was supposed to be someone important, not the neighborhood kid.

In the reading from Mark’s Gospel today, Jesus reminds us to keep alert, pay attention.

Perhaps this Advent there will be no Miracle on 34th Street (or Wall Street, for that matter). No angels appearing to shepherds on a starry hillside or to depressed men like George Bailey. No mountains trembling.

But, as Talitha Arnold writes, “God answered the demand, ‘Let your face shine that we might be saved,’ though not as anyone expected. Not in a return to the glory days of the past, but in the light of the Child born in Bethlehem, the light the darkness has never overcome.”

I believe that so too God will answer our demands of action, our pleas for presence, but it may not be in the way we want or expect. We may have to wait longer than we’d hoped. And in order to recognize it, especially in the chaos of the Christmas season, we’ll need to be aware, keep alert, pay attention.

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

For All The Saints

It's All Saints' Day (for another 2 hours anyway), a day to remember all those who have gone before us. I didn't pull out the prayer shawl I made for my thesis project, but I am in particular remembering the women saints in my family, and even more specifically my grandmother, Edna Ruth, who passed away four years ago. I've been sewing a lot the last couple weeks, and she was a prolific sewer. She made much of her own clothing, and many items for her seven children. She passed the skill on to her only daughter, my mom, who then in turn taught (and continues to teach) me.

As I feel the texture of the fabric moving under my fingertips and hear the motor of the sewing machine, I remember my grandmother. I think about who she was, and that perhaps I never really got to know who Edna the person was outside of Edna my Grammy. I think about her strong faith life, and wonder about her relationship with God. I ruminate that certain common words and phrases--"cuppa tea," "Down by the Station" and of course, "Pennsyl-vain-I-A!"-- that drove us a little crazy with their repetition when she was alive now serve as reminders of her, and most likely will serve as links to the next generation.

When my grandmother died, my mom inherited all her fabric. Much of it is polyester suiting that we're trying to figure out what to do with, but there are also a good deal of cottons, which my mom and I tend to favor. Often I'll look through my mother's stash for something, and hold up a piece that catches my eye. "Yes, I like that too," my mom will say. "That's a Grammy fabric." As I run my fingers over it, I know that Grammy had done the same, that it too had caught her eye, and I feel the connection through time.

Tonight I'll go to bed thinking of Grammy and all the other women to whom I'm connected, who surround me in a cloud of witnesses. Blessed be.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

For My Sisters in the DRC

The cost of Sarah Palin's wardrobe. Joe the Plumber. The amount of money Sarah Palin's makeup artist is paid. Anger at political signs being vandalized. Etc., etc. These are the things getting tons of publicity these days. Sure, there's also talk about the ups and mostly downs of the Dow, and of course day-by-day watching of "the polls." Oh, and the World Series.

What's not being talked about is what's going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and I'm the first to admit I had no idea what was going on. I heard a word here or there about a "Congo week" to raise awareness. One friend on Facebook had a status one day that said she was turning off her cell phone for the DRC. Only days later did I find out why (a key component of cell phones is mined there).

I think Eve Ensler writes about what's going on over there, particularly to the women, best here. Please read it carefully, and then consider these two statements:

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." --Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Thou shalt not be a victim. Thou shalt not be a perpetrator. Above all, thou shalt not be a bystander." --Holocaust Museum, Washington, DC

If we do nothing, we are not remaining neutral or "minding our own business." Doing nothing to stop violence and oppression is the same as helping those doing it.

A few years ago, I saw the film Hotel Rwanda. I left the theater and walked through Harlem to my apartment with tears streaming down my face. It was not simply the events of the film or the Rwandan genocide itself that touched me, but the anguish of the terrified people wondering why no one was coming to help them, wondering why, if the people in Europe and the US knew what was happening, they did nothing. It touched me because I knew we had not learned. It had happened during the Holocaust. It had happened with the Khmer Rouge. And, at the time the movie was released, the same thing was going on right then in the Sudan (and still is).

And now the DRC.

The question is, why? Is it because the stories that come out of these places are so atrocious we cannot believe it could possibly be that bad? Is it because these people are Other--they're not like us, so we don't really care that much--or, as Ms. Ensler suggests, because much of the violence is done against women?

I don't know. I do know that I can no longer say I didn't know about it. And if you're reading this, neither can you. And now that I know...it feels like one of those situations where there's nothing I can do.

But I can tell you, and I can tell others, and so can you. Spread the word. Offer it up during prayer requests at your church. Mention it to your friends. Forward this post and any others you find about it. Together we can make sure no one says they didn't know. That's the first step.

Then, maybe after election day, start contacting your government officials. Contact the ones in office now AND the newly elected. Make sure those who are in office until January do whatever they can in the next two months to help stop this, and make sure those coming in to office know you want them to make the conflict in the DRC a priority right off the bat.

And perhaps most importantly, make this pledge for yourself: "I will not stand by."

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Today I was babysitting a little boy. He's three, and his name is Finn. Let me also state that he is white, as is, with very few exceptions, his surrounding community. He was building with his Legos, when all of a sudden he said, "Marack Obama has two children, and he wants to be president."

I was a little stunned. "Yes," I said, "Barack Obama does have two little girls, and he does want to be president."

He rattled on a little bit more about it, and then said, "I'd like Barack Obama to be president. I'd like to give him a big hug." Thinking perhaps he said he had given him a hug, I asked him to clarify. "No," he emphasized, "I want to give him a hug."

Later, while watching a recording of "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!" from this past week, he glanced up during a commercial and said, "That's Barack Obama!" And he was right.

When his mom got home, I told her what had gone on. She told me that they watched the news (she's a news anchor and her husband also works in television) and would point out, "Oh, that's John McCain; oh, that's Barack Obama." She said at one point Finn told her he liked Barack Obama. When she asked him why, he said, "Because he's comfy."

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Wednesday Grammar Gripe

Excuse me for a moment while I get up on my soapbox.

Ok, people, seriously. I know that I'm a grammar nerd. I accept the fact that most people are not going to hold themselves to the high grammatical standard to which I hold myself. I understand that how we speak in casual conversation is different than how we might write a formal paper, for example.

That being said, I urge English and Language Arts teachers across America to stress the difference between LESS and FEWER. Again, casual conversation is one thing. But I have seen a plethora of misuse of these words in advertising and corporate settings lately.

Before I go into the examples, let's have a little grammar review. We use less to describe uncountable quantities, or the degree of something. The item described is usually singular. We use fewer to describe things that can be counted, and they're usually plural. So for example, we'd say less money, but fewer dollars; fewer hours but less time. Got it?

Ok, so it started at my bank in NY, Washington Mutual. They had a new advertising campaign (nicknamed the "whoo hoo" campaign) and a bunch of flashy new posters all over the walls. One said something to the effect of, "More benefits. Less hassles." Every time I went in, I would stare at that poster and get annoyed. I almost filled out a feedback form about it. Eventually, they moved on in the campaign and removed those posters. I wondered, though, how such a huge error could have made it that far?

Then there's the cable broadcast network TNT. In their promos for the movies they air, their new tagline is "More movie. Less commercials." See the problem? Fewer commercials. Fewer. Makes me not want to watch TNT. Who is writing these things--and who's letting them air?!?

Finally, last night I saw a print advertisement with not one but TWO incorrect uses! The ad is in the Good Housekeeping insert, Your Good House, and is for Culligan water filtration systems. Under the first picture, it states (bold mine): "SAVE ENERGY by using filtration systems that dramatically extend the life of your appliances, conserve water and allow for less detergents." Then, under the next picture, the caption reads: "USE LESS CHEMICALS AND CUT CLEANING TIME by installing a high-efficiency water softener..." Ugh.

Please, I'm begging all those in the advertising and all other media industries: use correct grammar! This is not so -called high-education complicated stuff, like using "whom" or not ending a sentence with a preposition. I get that those can sometimes just sound too stuffy and wordy in the "quick and dirty" world of media. But less and fewer are not interchangeable, and saying "fewer commercials" takes up one more syllable than "less" and does not make it sound stuffy, just makes it seems like the company actually knows English.

I'll step down from my soapbox now. Have a good day.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Working Without a Net. Or, Sewing Without a Pattern

Well, ok, I didn't really sew without a pattern. But I didn't use a commercial or any other kind of already-created pattern. I made my own! From scratch. Just me, an idea, a pencil, and a big roll of brown paper.

I started with something fairly simple, but even so realized as I was drawing that there were lots of steps to consider. Which pieces would get sewn together first? Right or wrong sides together? How do I make sure I cut the pattern pieces so that the fabrics face each other correctly? Is the sizing right? If I want to include a "stuffing," how do I do that?
The reasoning behind not using someone else's pattern is copyright law. I want to make these and sell them, and I can't do that if I go to JoAnn's and buy a Simplicity pattern for them.

So without further ado...
It's a bib! The front is a cotton paisley; the back is denim. I say front and back, but it's really reversible. Both fabrics are in their second lives, having previously been part of other things. The neck closes with a hook-and-loop closure (aka Velcro). Here it is being modeled on a stuffed mouse.

The end result is a little smaller than I'd hoped, but it'd definitely work for a young (under 6 mo) infant. Otherwise...I like it! I need more practice sewing curves, and I'm going to experiment with other sizes, neck closures, shapes, material (something more absorbent?) and maybe even some fun designs for holidays. If they get good enough, I'll set up a shop on http://www.etsy.com/, a website for handmade goodies.

If it gets to that point, I'll need models other than the mouse (although she is cute). So, if you've got a baby who wears bibs and are willing to allow me to use his/her image wearing the bib, let me know. You'll get a free bib AND the style will be named after your baby! How cool is that?

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sophie blogging

As promised, here are some pictures of our newest family member, Sophie. She is an absolute joy. She's sweet and funny and not too mischevious for a kitten (at about 6 months, she basically a teenager cat-wise). There's no way to be depressed around her--either she'll come knead us and purr as loud as a truck motor, or she'll do something totally silly and make us laugh. She's big into physical comedy: falling off things, doing somersaults, playing hide-and-seek, daintily investigating soap bubbles with her paw...Today she had me laughing so hard I was crying! Dad's mentioned Sophie coming with me when I leave, but I think he's gotten too attached. I don't know though, she's pretty attached to me, too...

This is the day after we adopted her, just over a month ago.

She loves sitting in the window...

...or just leaning on her "elbows" to observe the birds, chipmunks, and falling leaves.

Here she is meeting my nephew Caleb for the first time. She got right up and sniffed his head!

Then she decided his baby seat was a pretty comfy spot, with a bonus of fun toys hanging on it.

I think we're already at the point (I am, anyway) where it feels like she's always been a part of the family!

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Happy Birthday to My Blog!

So although I actually started my blog in May of 2006, I consider October to be my anniversary, because it was at this time last year that I really started regularly writing (I had 4 posts total in 2006). Although "regularly" might be taken with a grain of salt, I'm learning not to take small steps for granted. Slowly but surely it progresses. Last month by far had my highest number of visits to date, which broke the record previously held by August. It's happening, little by little. In the past year I had successes like people I didn't know finding my little musings and making comments, being invited to write on a group blog, and having a post published at another publication (the most fun part about that is now if you Google "feminist pastor" my post comes up first!). I'm starting to realize that each post does not have to be long, involved, researched, and deep. Some may be that way, sure, but some might only be a sentence or two long. I just need to be disciplined about writing something until it becomes second nature.

Anyway, happy birthday, Sunlight and Shadows. May the next year bring even more ruminations, new friends and visitors, and lots of success! Let's celebrate!

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Forget "To Do"

I'm a big fan of "to do" lists. I make them all the time. At the moment, I have three: sewing projects to be done, general "needs to be done at some point soon," and my list of things to do this week. Those are the written ones, plus I have one running in my head for things I'd like to get done today.

However, I'm going to switch it up a little. I often get a little anxious when thinking about those lists, and often many things are left undone, while others not on the list somehow are accomplished. Yes, I'll admit to sometimes adding those actions just to cross them off. There is definite satisfaction in that drawing that line through a word or two. Today instead of stressing about what I did not get done in the past few days that I wanted to, I'd like to share my "GOT DONE" list. Perhaps we'd all feel a little bit better about ourselves if we made lists like this!


  • Emptied out closet in sewing room in preparation for the creation of Dad's recording studio
  • With Mom, threw out two carloads worth of junk
  • Dropped off a whole bunch of stuff at the thrift store
  • Vacuumed closet and area directly in front of it
  • Did 5+ loads of laundry--washed, dried, and folded--most of which was fabric
  • Completed two rows in a crocheted cat blanket for the Humane Society
  • Read 48 pages of Anne of Green Gables
  • Interviewed for a steady babysitting job
  • Met with a couple whose wedding I'm officiating while picking a peck of apples
  • Made two loaves of beer bread
  • Moved bookshelf from sewing room into Mom's room and the bookshelf from there into living room, and unpacked DVDs and videos onto shelves
  • Watched 6 unlabeled tapes to see what they were and threw out 5
  • Cleaned up fallen tree in backyard
  • Sorted through and tried on some clothes in closet to see what to keep and what to get rid of
  • Stripped and re-made my bed
  • Sorted through old mail and cleared off part of dining room table

Yeah...when I look at it like that, I've gotten a heck of a lot accomplished! I feel much better...

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

New addition

After a couple months of not having a cat (since our cat Isabella wandered away at the beginning of July), my parents decided it was time to adopt again. We went down to the Greater Nashua Humane Society and poked around in their many rooms of cats. In the third tier of cages just inside the door was our new cat. We actually walked right by her when we first came in. Her name is Sophie, and she's black and white, and four months old. We considered getting two--they have a "two-for-one" cat special due to an enormous overflow of felines--but decided Sophie would do for now. It was hard to leave with just her, but nice to see many families stopping in while we were there. And I know Sophie will have a wonderful home. As soon as I have a place of my own, I'll be heading down to the local shelter myself to adopt some animal family members.

I'll post pictures as soon as I find the cord to my camera. So far, Sophie seems to be taking to her new home just fine, although at the moment she's sleeping/hiding under the recliner. I think she got a little overwhelmed.

This was my second time at the Humane Society (my first being when I reported Izzy missing) and it's a great place. I think given all my current free time that I might volunteer there. My mom and I also noticed that a lot of the cats were sleeping on mini-afghans in their cages, so we may make use of our overflow of yarn to keep the kitties comfy while they wait to be adopted.

I urge any of you who have some extra love to go around to consider adopting a pet from a no-kill shelter, particularly a cat. The economy hits our furry friends especially hard when their families are forced to give them up, and our humane society has literally hundreds of cats. And of course, as Bob Barker says, spay and neuter your pets!

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

On Sale: Authenticity

A few days ago, my Feminist Top Ten list was posted on Fidelia's Sisters, a publication of the Young Clergy Women's Project. I just re-read it, and in light of what's going on in my life the last month or so, came to a big realization about myself: I just cannot live as a fake.

My number one reason to not hide my "crazy feminism" was that I believe in living authentically. Which I do. But most days, I just don't see that play out much. And really, what I realized tonight is that I don't just believe in living authentically, I actually find it pretty much impossible to try and be someone or something I'm not.

Yesterday I gave my two-weeks' notice at my part-time job. I've had the job for just about a month. It's in retail, and offers correspondingly low pay, but the employee discount is great and I told myself I'd be able to get some good, professional, "ministerial-chic" clothes while earning enough to pay bills while I'm searching for a church.

I considered, while putting in applications at the mall, just how much I've come to dislike malls--and all that they represent--in the past couple years. I can handle them in short doses, am not opposed to them, and yes, sometimes even enjoying shopping in them. That being said, in the last couple years I have become much more anti-consumerist, for many reasons: the environment, financial aspects, immoral production practices, loving things more than loving life, etc. I even committed to the Compact for a few months.

I figured it wouldn't be that bad, only a few months, and it'd take no energy away from what I really need to do, which is finishing my ministerial profile and finding a real job.

I was wrong.

The store for which I work is more into selling than some others I've experienced. No one gets commission, but there is always a push to get a customer to buy more more more. And always, there's the push to open the store credit card. We hadn't opened any in a few days this week, and our managers were not happy. I was being bribed with free candles and free coffee if I got someone to open a card. We're even being threatened with being "written up" if not every single associate got a card.

I started getting a sour feeling in my stomach every time I thought about going to work. Not only was I pushing consumerism on others, but it was rubbing off on me! I think I've already spent my earnings, even with my discount (although the well-fitting suit was definitely needed), and was beginning to covet various items in the store, many that I can't afford, all of which I don't need!

I finally came to the conclusion that I couldn't do it anymore. I just couldn't work in a place that went so much against my values. Now, to be honest, I also decided that they weren't paying me enough to make it ok, and I think I should do a little reflection on how much I believe living authentically is worth.

So, before the month is over I'll again be unemployed. I'm going to really push myself to get my profile done, and probably look for another part-time job, as well as try to get some odd jobs like babysitting and editing. Hey, maybe I'll try for some writing gigs as well.

I'm not too worried though, because I know that as crazy as some people might think I am for doing this, and as stressed as being broke might make me in the coming weeks, I know that I am not compromising my values, my truth. I am not just believing in living authentically, I am living authentically.

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Prayers for New Orleans

I'll get to the autumn post later. Right now, I have a bigger concern. Hurricane Gustav is heading for the Gulf of Mexico, having already hit Haiti and probably hitting Cuba on its way today. It's expected to gain strength over the warm waters, and make landfall in the US anywhere between Florida and Texas. That puts New Orleans most likely right in its path. Needless to say, residents there are worried.

I am too. Not only because I know that three years is not nearly enough time to erase memories and anxieties of the trauma of Katrina (having lived in NYC the last four years, I am quite aware of the reaction to a low-flying plane or unexplained smoky air), but also because having spent time in New Orleans this past January, and engaged many of its residents, I feel a deep connection to that wonderfully unique city.

I also know from my time there that New Orleans has only begun to move from recovery to renewal, and the prospect of having much of that wiped away is just plain scary. This photo was taken from inside the home I was helping to construct for a family, of their street, lined with FEMA trailers. For many, FEMA trailers are the only homes people have now. They are certainly not designed to withstand a strong hurricane.

So on the anniversary of the day people woke up after Katrina hit and mistakenly thought they'd be made it through the worst of it, the people of New Orleans are in my prayers. May you be comforted, may you be protected, and may you be safe.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Sun, sun, sun!

Wow, we've had almost a week now of straight sun, which has been great for my garden after so much rain. My tomatoes are finally starting to ripen. I was beginning to think they'd stay green until the first frost! I've harvested maybe a dozen grape tomatoe--spread out over days so never enough for a salad--but now I've got bunches turning red. And a tomato that's been bigger than my fist for weeks is finally orange! Hurray!

On another garden-miracle note, I've got a zuchinni growing! Now, any of you who've grown zuchinni may not see this as such a big deal, as it tends to be the plant that just won't stop producing, leading to bags of thigh-sized zuchinnis left hanging on neighbors' mailboxes, but my squash got attacked this season. It got a nasty bug that looked like big fat maggots (ewwwww) which ate my plants from the inside out. I got one summer squash, and then it all went downhill. Out of four plants (two summer squash and two zuchinni), all that's left is this one, and it wasn't looking so promising a week or so ago. I had been trying to pull off some of the really wilted leaves when the whole plant tipped sideways--and broke almost completely off the root (the bug chews up the inside of the vine at the bottom, leaving a sawdust-like residue and little support for the plant). But I decided to give it another chance, tilted it back up, found the offending bug (hopefully the only one!) and covered the distintigrating vine with some mulch.

Lo and behold, it seems to have worked! The plant looks healthy and hasn't wilted at all, even after days without rain (first symptom of bug: wilt in sun), and I think the sun has kept the slugs from eating the flowers (yeah, it's been an interesting first-time gardening experiences with creatures!) so pollination actually happened and there's a lovely green zuchinni growing away.

So the tomatoes are ripening, I'm still getting lots of green beans, I've picked three cucumbers and have more than a dozen more growing (anybody have good recipes for cukes?), and a miracle zuchinni has appeared. So other than my fist-sized watermelon that rotted on the vine, the garden's great!

Next post: it's mid-August, but all signs point to fall....

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Don't Hold Too Tight!

What do we do with blessings when we receive them? Do we hold on to them tightly so they can't ever get away--like a small child might grab onto a chick, squeezing the life out of it? Or do we welcome it gently, coddle it, cup our hands around it and care for it, appreciating it with delight?

I am welcoming an unexpected blessing into my life at the moment, and like most blessings, it is exciting and a little bit scary too. Most of us just don't know what to do when presented with a Good Thing. We feel like we don't deserve it or haven't earned it, and maybe feel a little guilty for enjoying it.

So at the moment, I'm going to do the opposite and simply open my hands and my heart. I'm going to acknowledge that God has given me something Good, and that I DO deserve it. And I'm going to hold it gently and care for it and hope it stays around a long, long time. But even if it doesn't, I know I'll have been blessed all the same.

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Friday, August 01, 2008

Why go to church?

I recently joined a dating website, and while many aspects of people's profiles have been interesting to me, one thing I've noticed in particular is how people describe their religious beliefs (when they do at all). Often it's a "I grew up such-and-such but don't go now except on holidays," but I've seen quite a few who say outright that they just don't believe in organized religion because they don't think one should be required to go to church in order to achieve salvation--or something to that effect.

Huh? Now, perhaps I didn't pay close enough attention to what tradition they said they grew up in, if they said at all. Maybe they all come from the same one, and that's where they get that idea.

I, however, am of the mindset that church is not for God. It's for God's people. I know there are many out there who will strongly disagree with me, call me a product of the "Me" generation, raised to be a consumer with all my wants and needs catered to. There's validity to that point, but perhaps that's another post.

What I'm saying is that I just don't believe in such a self-centered God who would require that everyone come and pay homage--aka worship--every week to stay in God's good graces. This is certainly how weekly services started, and obviously there are still many places that promote this, or people wouldn't be making these statements against it.

So why go to church at all then? Well, to be honest, there are plenty of Sundays I've asked myself that same question, and found plenty of things I needed or wanted to do instead of attend a church service. (In seminary, particularly my first year, I admit that after a week of classes and homework, the last thing I felt I needed was another day spent talking and thinking about God!)

But I think what it comes down to is community. Most of us live, work, and interact in places where living a Christian life is not a central focus. It is something that for the most part remains within the walls of our home, if not even further hidden in our own hearts and minds. In my experience those with more conservative beliefs tend to be more open about their faith, while those in more liberal traditions keep it to themselves. Think about how a typical day might go:

1. Get up, get ready for work-- Maybe there's some time spent reading the Bible or saying a prayer, but it's more likely it's rushing around to get out the door.

2. Travel to work--This may involve public transportation and/or a stop for coffee, maybe not. In either case, is the barista asking you how you'll be living out Jesus' message this morning, or are you discussing with the guy next to you on the subway how you feel God is calling you to a new place? Didn't think so.

3. Work-- If you're particularly close to co-workers, you may have at some point breached the subject of religion, or had it done for you somehow (Ash Wednesday is usually good for that). Even then, it's usually broad mentions of choir practice or an event, rather than theological discussion. Otherwise, religion (and politics) are usually taboo.

4. Travel home from work--See #2.

5. After work-- Gym, activities (kids' or your own), television.

6. Go to bed-- Perhaps you said a prayer before going to sleep. Good for you.

Hm, not much time for God in there! Perhaps, if you're like me, there are a thousand moments during the day when you turn to God. A quick prayer for someone's health, a petition for help in a stressful moment, a "what would Jesus do" reflection after being cut off in traffic, etc. But those are all internal and personal.

Church gives us the opportunity to follow Christ with others. We are not alone. It is a place to be held accountable, to be supported, to question and doubt and believe. That hour on Sunday is perhaps the only time in our week when we get to remind ourselves of the larger community of believers to which we belong. It is an opportunity for God to be not simply a fleeting internal thought in the midst of life's chaos, but the focus of our attention and outwardly expression in words, songs, prayers, laughter, and tears. The church began because individual believers gathered together in each others' homes (under threat of persecution, no less) to share their journeys.

I went to church for the first time in quite a while (since before I graduated if you don't count the two weeks I led the service) this past Sunday, a Catholic mass that preceded the baptism of my friend's baby boy. When a misunderstanding surfaced and it seemed we wouldn't get out the door in time for Mass, I became unusually upset. I needed church, and had been looking forward to it all week. We made it, a little late. The liturgy was unfamiliar, but God was present in that place, and it felt good to be surrounded by others on the journey. After the priest presented the four children to be baptized, he held them each aloft a la Rafiki in "The Lion King." I got tears in my eyes at the joy I felt as we welcomed these children into the community. I could feel the hopes and prayers for their lives and their relationship with God palpably.

Ah, THIS is why I go to church.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Perfectly Good

I'm in the middle of a conundrum. I feel like two parts of me are pushing and pulling. Back and forth they go, with me like Stretch Armstrong in the middle. And most of it has to do with the phrase, "it's perfectly good."

My grandparents grew up in the Depression era, and I saw this concept reflected in many ways around their house: containers full of bag ties (the plastic ones, not the twisty ones), old furniture, scraps of fabric from clothes made for my uncles. We would periodically try to get rid of stuff, and be met with the phrase or its sister, "I might need it for something."

The pack rat gene did not pass me by. My mother got it, and so did I. This makes trying to sort through the clutter of my parents' house difficult. If mom agrees to get rid of something, I may just say, "well, we'll keep it for me when I get my own place." Not helpful.

Here's where the push and pull comes in. On one hand, there is the simple living movement, as well as my interest in the Compact, both of which espouse paring down clutter and waste and unnessesary things in our lives and homes. Ok, I'm all for that. I really don't need two dozen plastic containers, or years of old magazines, or sports equipment I haven't used since high school.

However, then the stricter environmentalist in me chimes in. Hold on a second, it says. Maybe you can donate or sell some of that stuff (containers from the store, sports equipment), or recycle what you can't (magazines), but what about the other stuff that can't be recycled, or that could be repurposed to avoid having to buy something--even more timely given our current economy?

So begins the argument for "it's perfectly good." Every time I toss an empty toilet paper roll, I think that maybe some school, church, or other kid's group could use them for crafts. I look at plastics that can't be recycled in my area and think they might be useful for something. What makes it worse is that as I delve more into art, I think "I can use this for art!" I read articles about artists (quilt artists, mind you) who use everything under the sun from plastic bags to dryer lint in their pieces.

Ok, so here's what it comes down to for me: not could an item be used, but will it--and how soon? Will the item simply join the stash of Unused Potential? Could someone else be using it actively instead allowing it to use up space and collect dust until Someday arrives?

With that in mind, I continue on my delicate balancing act between saving everything just for the saving, and filling landfills by throwing everything away. In future posts I'll periodically address one item or category of items to see what use it has besides its original intent. And if any of you have especially creative uses for things, please share!

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Bird by bird

Again, I have been remiss in my posting. But no longer (I swear)! Today's post title refers to an Anne Lamott book on writing, and not only am I going to go back and re-read that book, but I'm taking some of her advice and disciplining myself to write every day. So, this blog will hopefully really start getting some good posts. Fear not, dear subscribers, I will not be necessarily writing on this blog quite that often, but splitting my words between here and my blog at Everyday Citizen, to whom I promised lots of entries with my loads of summer free time...and who have also been neglected. I also have tentative plans to begin a second blog focused solely on my art adventures as those develop. Stay tuned for more on that as it comes to fruition!

Now, due to the discipline of writing daily, my posts may sometimes (often?) be shorter and less substantial. But they will be something, anyway, and I hope with time they will just get better and better, and lead us all to deeper reflection on faith, social justice, and life's crazy moments!

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Step by Step

Little by little, I take steps that will eventually lead to my becoming a pastor. Some are important to the official process: putting together my profile, taking psychological exams, writing my ordination paper (none of which are done yet). Others are smaller, but no less significant.

Yesterday, I ordered this robe. I plan on putting my name on the New Hampshire pulpit supply list, and felt that wearing a robe will help both me and the congregations recognize my authority as a seminary graduate and planning- to- be- but- not-yet-Rev.

It felt like a big step. And I'm sure the first time I wear it will feel quite significant. This coming Sunday, I will be leading worship at the Community Church of Hudson, the church in which I grew up. It will mark the first time most of the congregants will have heard me preach. It would be great if my robe arrives in time to wear it for that service, although I preached at Broadway UCC in New York without one, and it didn't seem to bother anyone one bit--I got a lot of compliments on my sermon!

Step by step, though, is how it needs to be done. I've realized that I will not just wake up one day and be (and feel like) a pastor. But if I take it step by step, I will become. It will also feel a whole heck of a lot less intimidating!

We have become an instant-response culture. We want dinner in less than 30 min, super-high-speed internet access, 'round the clock news access and updates, firming creams that take away wrinkles overnight, etc. The natural world, however--of which we often forget we are a part--seldom works that way.

I planted a garden about two weeks ago. Peppers, tomatoes, beans, squash, watermelon, basil, rosemary. With the exception of the beans, everything was planted as a seedling. I've noticed my impatience with the growth. I just started getting flowers on one of the larger tomato plants. A couple days ago, my beans started breaking through the soil. While it's certainly progress, I've had to train myself to remember they won't grow overnight. It's not an instantaneous process. At first, I was checking the plants like I check my e-mail: several times a day!

Now, although I often look over at them from the deck, look for evidence of leaves being munched on, and check for weeds, I realize that each plant grows at its own pace, and takes the time it needs to complete its "steps" for successful growth. Even before they were planted, the ground had to be prepared, and nutrients were added with compost that had been over a year in the making. Then each one needs to send out strong roots into that soil before it can spend energy going up. When it does start going up, it needs to make sure it has strong stems and leaves to give structure and get nutrients from the sun. Then (in most cases), the flowers come out and often need the help of bees to pollinate. Only then can the plant begin sending its energy into producing fruit. Each step builds upon the previous one--and they don't all happen at once.

This is something I need to remind myself. Build my steps one by one so that they can be built upon each other. If I attempt to produce fruit without having allowed my roots to take hold, I won't get any nutrients. If I get some fruit grown without a good support structure, I'll just fall over. One thing at a time. Bird by bird, as author Anne Lamott says.

That's my mantra for the summer, I think. Bird by bird. Bird by bird. Bird by bird. Or maybe, bean by bean...

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Monday, June 02, 2008

Back in NH

Bad, bad blogger. It's been quite a while since I've written, and I apologize, because I'm not coming back with anything really pithy. Just a hi, hello, and update on why it's been so long!

Since my last post, I wrote two final papers, graduated with my M.Div, won a preaching award, wrote and preached my first Sunday sermon, packed up a ridiculous amount of crap, moved from NYC to New Hampshire (taking out the passenger-side mirror of the U-Haul in the process), and given my sister a baby shower (with the help of The Moms). Oh, and worked on a home-improvement project which has delayed me actually unpacking. Sigh...

So now that I'm in summer mode and unemployed, I will hopefully have lots of time to blog here and at http://www.everydaycitizen.com/, in between more home improvement, gardening, looking for a job, and just generally vegging out. Fun!

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Feminist Pastor Top Ten

The following is a sermon/ search committee piece I wrote as a final project for my feminist/womanist preaching class. I don't know that I'd actually be brave enough to preach it before being hired...but I wanted to share!

Not too long ago, I was describing part of my thesis project to a colleague
after a conversation about the search and call process. “It’s a prayer shawl,” I
told him, “with the names and images of the women I consider to be my saints,
the cloud of witnesses that surround me.”

“Whoa,” he replied.
“You’re going to have to tone down that crazy feminist stuff when you meet with
search committees.”

Now, truth be told, I don’t consider myself a
“crazy” feminist. I am a feminist, yes, in that I feel that men and women are
equal and deserve to be treated as such. Perhaps I am a strong feminist, in that
I believe that men are not the “default” humans, with women being an
afterthought. I believe influential women should be celebrated in the same way
influential men have been for millennia. I also believe that women have the same
access to God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit that men do, and the same ability to
share that with a parish community. If that makes me a “crazy feminist,” then I
will proudly claim that title.

So, in honor of that, here are my
top ten reasons I won’t tone down my “crazy feminism:”

10. Because I grew up going to Sunday school and learning about the men in the Bible, but not the women. The women are there and are important, and I want to be sure that children being raised in the church today know about them. They should not only know Moses, Abraham, Paul, Samuel, Jonah, Peter, and Noah, but Deborah, Miriam, Phoebe, Martha, Hagar, Ruth and Rebekah. Most kids in Sunday school know about David and Goliath, or Daniel in the lion’s den, but do they know about Esther saving her people, or Rachel and the idols? These women are in our sacred texts—shouldn’t our children know about them? Shouldn’t we?

9. Because I want the young women and the young men growing up in the body of Christ to know that they are all equally part of that body—with equal benefit and responsibility. It does a disservice to both genders when the Church says otherwise. Let us look at the Bible, particularly at the first chapter of Acts, where it lists the names of the Apostles who went to the room upstairs in
Jerusalem, and says, “all these were constantly gathered in prayer, together
with certain women.” It certainly seems to me like women were an important and
included part of that very early Church. And like then, today we need all the
ministers—in all areas of ministry—that we can get. So why should we discount
half the population?

8. Because I don’t believe my “crazy feminist”
message is just for young radicals, but for my mother’s and grandmother’s generations as well.
When I make sure women’s stories are more often present in Scripture readings, sermons, and Bible studies, I do it not just so the next generation can grow up knowing differently than I did, but also to affirm the older women as well. Maybe they’ll just think, “Well, then, she’s just saying
what I knew all along.” But perhaps there will be some who will think, “Wow, I
never thought about it things that way before, and it speaks to me.” Hopefully
there will be some older men who feel that way too!

7. Because male pastors aren’t expected to suppress their gender identities.

6. Because we are living in a post-women’s movement society, and our churches are steadily declining in membership. What do those things have to do with each other? Many of the people who aren’t coming to church feel like their
progressive beliefs—like feminism—don’t fit with Christianity. I want to
evangelize that you can be a feminist and a Christian! In order to do that,
however, I need to not only be able to tell the feminists in society that I go
to church, but tell the church I’m a feminist. Both of those are risky, and I
fully acknowledge that. I also believe that being a Christian and following
Jesus’ teachings means taking risks.

5. Because too many women before me have struggled too hard for me to stand aside quietly. In 1853, Antoinette Brown became the first woman ordained in the United States, in a Congregational church, one of the root traditions of our own UCC. She couldn’t vote or own property, but the church acknowledged her calling to preach. However, women still make up less than 40% of ordained clergy in our
denomination, and in my conversations with female clergy, it is still a struggle
to be a woman in this profession. For them, for the women who came before me,
and for the women who come after me, I speak my truth.

4. Because
when you Google “feminist pastor,” most of what comes up is highly anti-feminist Christian rhetoric.
Websites and pastors that claim feminism is evil, of the Devil, and the main problem for all of societies current ills—and I am in no
way exaggerating—all fall under the guise of providing the true Christian
message. Women who do not stay at home to care for the children and obey their
husbands are defying God. They want authority over men, which is just like
Lucifer wanting authority over God! I really wish I were making this up, but I’m
not. By claiming the term feminist, I am not claiming to be anti-male, or
wanting to be somehow “above” men, switching our society from patriarchy (where
men have the authority) to matriarchy (where women have the authority). I simply
want equality—and not a “separate but equal women and men have complementary
God-ordained roles” equality. And here’s one big reason why:

3. Because putting women in a box puts men in a box too. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve spoken to male friends who were putting off marriage simply because they didn’t yet have a job that paid well enough to support anyone else. They were taught that men are the providers, and if they couldn’t live into that yet,
then they would wait. I think this is where some of the fear comes in about
feminism, and that includes in the Christian world. If women are strong, acting
as leaders, providing for themselves, not needing to be taken care of, where
does that leave the men? In working with others to expand our language for God
(more on that in a minute), I often hear that in order to include women, we
should name the “feminine” qualities of God—“broods like a mother hen,” nurtures
us as a mother, etc. If we keep God the Father as disciplinarian and not
nurturing, we are telling men to be the same way. By embracing my feminism and
asking that women not be put into a box of being the nurturing ones whose core
strength is in how she cares for others, I’m also asking that men be allowed to
step out of the box of always having to be strong, un-emotional providers. This
should not be an either/or situation for either gender. Men and women can be
BOTH strong AND nurturing.

2. Because God is not a boy’s name. This is a sticky one for many people. The Bible uses the term Father for God—Jesus himself calls God Abba, “Daddy.” All the pronouns associated with God in the Bible are male. People may say that using female language is heresy. That being said, I believe it is heresy to claim that our limited human language could possibly every fully describe God. Think about how hard it is to describe the things and people that surround us just using language. Why do you think so many people talk with their hands? Now think about the awesome and immeasurable quality of the Divine. I think it’s a little presumptuous to say that just a few of our words—God, Lord, Father—can describe all that. So in my crazy feminism, I say that yes, we should attempt to expand our concept and language of God, but this is not simply by throwing in some “Mother’s” and “she’s.” We should really expand our language and think of the Triune God as Fire, Flame, and Light. God as the Holy Painter of Sunsets. Christ as Rescuer in Times of Trouble. Holy
Spirit as Laughing Wind of the Divine. You get the idea.

And, the
number one reason I won’t back down from my crazy feminism:

Because I believe in living authentically. I mean to ask that from
my parishioners, and I would hope you would want nothing less from me.
If I come in here pretending to be something I’m not, what sort of example am I setting? Not only that, how are we supposed to clearly discern whether I am being called to this community if I am not expressing my true self? Part of that true self is
feminist, and I hope I would not have to “tone that down” to live out God’s
calling for my life.

Now that I’ve completely terrified most of you, I want to simply state that my saying all this does not mean that I plan on entering any church community and force beliefs or changes on anyone. I’m not going to go through everything and state that you may never again use the word “Father” for God. I’m not going to look down on you if you disagree with me. I will, however, ask that you join me on a journey to deepen our
relationships with God, and to wrestle with what it means to be Christians. I
will ask that you explore this and other uncomfortable places with me, and maybe
open up some doors that have been shut tight. If you can only be comfortable
cracking it open and taking a peek before slamming it shut again, that’s ok. If
you’re ready to walk out flinging the doors wide open, that’s fine too. And
balancing those two perspectives is part of how we live –and love—together in
Christian community.

May God bless all of us with discernment on our journeys in Christ.

[Note: This list was apparently part of the reason that at gradutation, I was awarded the Karen Ziegler Feminist Preaching Prize. Whoo hoo!]

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

This is the Day That the Lord Has Made!

And I am certainly rejoicing! I'm singing praise and making joyful noise and all that! Why? It's early April in NYC and 70 degrees with cloudless blue skies. I was accepted In Care to my local UCC Association, which means I can proceed with ordination/call steps. And, above all...

It's my birthday!! So happy birthday to me, and thanks to God (and my parents) for my life and all the joy and blessings with which it is filled. My cup certainly runneth over!

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Named or Un-named, We Remember

I can't seem to stop thinking about her, this woman whose name I don't know.

On Friday, while leaving a friend's apartment, I was stopped in my tracks by an unmistakeable sound: that of someone being hit.

A man yelled in Spanish, each phrase punctuated by that horrible sound. I heard her voice yell back once. His reply was that sound. As I came to myself enough to move away down the stairs, not wanting to be discovered just standing there listening, I heard him yell some more, "Que te dijo? Que te dijo?!" What did I tell you, what did I tell you.

I didn't know what to do. I felt conflicted. It was not my building, not my neighbor, not my business. And yet, I'm a Christian, and a woman. That woman being hit was my neighbor, my sister. I thought about what would happen if I called the police. What would I tell them? Someone was being hit, in some apartment in this building? When I told my friend what I'd heard, he replied, "Welcome to the neighborhood."

And so we fulfill the stereotype of a poor urban neighborhood made up of people of color. Of course, women who live in these places are not the only ones abused by their partners and family members, not by a long shot. But I think about how easily I heard it. Where I grew up, there's at least a little space between houses. While I'm sure my neighbors caught an earful when arguments between my father and me spilled outside, if there had been abuse going on inside, they probably wouldn't have heard. What must it be like to be the neighbors of that woman and others, of the children who are beaten, to hear that?

My contact lasted less than a minute, but reached my soul. What is it like to be exposed to violence--especially intimate violence--as a bystander, over and over? Does one just get used to it, not hear it anymore? Or does it create a dark place in the soul?

Over the last couple days I've held this woman in my thoughts and prayers, and I've come to a realization. In a womanist/feminist preaching class I'm taking this semester, we talk a lot about the many un-named women in the Bible. We remember their stories, but we'll never know their names. One woman invites her children to give the women names when they read about them.

I will remember this woman, though I will never know her name. And like most of the un-named women of the Bible, I don't really know who she is--just one tiny captured moment of her life is all I've got. But I won't forget. In my mind, her name is Luz--Light. I pray for her, for those who love her, for he that hits her, and for all those who are victims of intimate violence--through first-hand experience or second-hand awareness. I pray.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

I'm back! ( and with stole pictures!)

Wowza has it been a long time since I posted. This is what happens when one has to make 7 stoles and write an accompanying paper in less than two months. But it's done and so I'm back to real life, which includes blogging (and, unfortunately, regular homework).

I know that some of you have been anxious to see the finished product of my senior thesis project. For those who are unaware of what I did, the official title was "Woman of the Cloth: Quilting a Calendar of Stoles," and I designed and made 6 stoles and a prayer shawl based on the Christian liturgical calendar. It was an amazing experience, and I showed them last night and got a fantastic response. We also performed a ritual of blessing (which I wrote), which was more powerful and moving than I even expected.

So below is my artist's statement and pictures of the stoles, as displayed during the show apologies to those with slower connections; this one's gonna take a while, alongside the blessing bestowed upon them, which were read by 7 different people (bold indicates response by all gathered). Apologies to those with slower connections that this will take a while; also apologies that the pictures may not be super-clear since I made them smaller for posting.

There were moments while I was doing this project when I wondered what I’d gotten myself into. “I’m not a quilt artist, or even a Quilter!” I’d tell myself. I would look at pictures of other stoles and condemn myself for not being nearly as creative or artistic or professional as their creators. And yet I persevered, and ended up with six stoles and a prayer shawl that I am proud of. I took risks as an artist, reaching into the unknown and allowing myself to say, “let’s just see what happens”—and figuring out how to deal with mistakes. While many times I felt that if I had more time, I might have done something more elaborate, or added something, or changed a design, I also appreciate that the time constraints forced me to make decisions and stick with them, seeing them through. I couldn’t continually second guess myself. I had to say, at some moments, “it’s good enough.” This goes against my perfectionist tendencies, which I think many times get in way of my creative abilities, and so I consider it a blessing.

For each season or special day, I bathed myself in the sensations that surround it. I read the Lectionary texts and paid attention to what stood out to me. For those seasons I’ve experienced since starting the project, I took notice of the sounds and symbols and words used. I reflected on what I felt mattered in each season. I also prayed about my designs, asking for the Spirit’s help in discerning what to include.

Overall, I am so grateful for having done this project. So many times while working on it, I felt as if I should be doing something “productive” instead, because schoolwork couldn’t be so enjoyable! I also have begun to consider other stoles I might make in the future: a stole made out of jeans to wear during Ordinary Time, an Earth Day stole with recycled items, and an autumn stole full of falling leaves. I have come to the end of this project, perhaps, but like the commencement ceremonies at the end of the school year, I feel that this is not an ending for me, but a beginning.

Advent marks the beginning of a new church year, and a time of journeys. We begin again the journey with our sister Mary to Bethlehem, in expectation and preparation for the birth of Jesus, and we continue the journey to the time when Christ comes again. Let this stole be worn with hope of illumination on the journey. As journeying people, we bless this stole.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill to all people.” In the middle of the night, angels appeared to shepherds and proclaimed the birth of the Anointed one with great joy. Meanwhile, the newborn bringing God’s light into the world slept in very humble accommodations. This is Christmas, a time to proclaim God-with-us in noisy celebration and quiet wonder. Let this stole be worn with both joy and awe at the miracle of God incarnate. As proclaiming people, we bless this stole.

During Lent we take another journey, filled with sorrow. It is dark and somber and painful. Yet in the midst of all this grief, God is always present, a comfort in our most troubling times. Let this stole be worn in the knowledge of the darkness of the world and God’s enduring comfort. As hurting people, we bless this stole.

As dawn breaks on Easter morning, we are reminded again that from the darkness of death springs new life. Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! The cross has been transformed from a mark of humiliation to a symbol of triumph over death. Let this stole be worn with elation at the power of the light of Christ to break through the darkness and sin of the world. As transformed and transforming people, we bless this stole.

As a group gathered on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon them like tongues of flames. We remember this event and celebrate the beginning of the church and the many gifts that have been bestowed upon us. We open ourselves up to the movement and power of the Spirit in our lives. Let this stole be worn in recognition of the power of the Spirit and the special gifts of each person and each community.
As gathered, gifted people, we bless this stole.

Water is a central part of our existence. We begin our lives cushioned by water in our mother’s womb. Much of the earth is made up by water, as are our bodies. We clean, bathe, cook, and play in water. Water plays an important part in many of our tradition’s stories. Unfortunately, not all have access to water as they should, so water also calls us to action against in injustice. For many of us, water recalls our baptisms, and the grace of God. Let this stole be worn in celebration of the life-giving, life-sustaining, and life-renewing energy of water. As refreshed people, we bless this stole.

On All Saints’ Day we remember and celebrate the lives of those who have gone before us. We particularly lift up those women, so often un-recognized and forgotten, in the company of Saints. They have born witness to oppression, injustice, and inequality. We remember those women—those in our church tradition, those in written history, and those in our personal lives—who surround us in a cloud of witnesses and aid us in our own struggles for justice. Let this shawl be worn as a tangible reminder of the communion of holy women, named and unnamed, known and unknown. As witness- bearers, we bless this shawl.

Beth: Let us pray. Spirit of Life, thank you for those gathered in this community tonight, and for the blessings they have laid upon these holy garments. Bless all of us who are gathered in this place, and those who could not be with us. In your holy, loving, sustaining name we pray. Amen.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Balm of a Psalm

I have stress in my life. School deadlines loom, coming up, as always, much more quickly than anticipated. Procrastination once agains doles out its consequences. Too many responsibilties leave me wishing for a (healthy) day off from everything.

But today I feel ok, and part of it has to do with Psalm 143, the Psalm for the week in my devotional book:

1 Hear my prayer, O Lord; give ear to my supplications in your faithfulness;
answer me in your righteousness.
2 Do not enter into judgment with your
servant, for no one living is righteous before you.
3 For the enemy has
pursued me, crushing my life to the ground, making me sit in darkness like
long dead.
4 Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within
me is
5 I remember the days of old, I think about all your
deeds, I
meditate on the works of your hands.
6 I stretch out my hands
to you; my
soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Selah
7 Answer me
quickly, O Lord;
my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me, or I shall
be like those who go
down to the Pit.
8 Let me hear of your steadfast
love in the morning, for in
you I put my trust. Teach me the way I should
go, for to you I lift up my soul.
9 Save me, O Lord, from my enemies; I have
fled to you for refuge.
10 Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. Let
your good spirit lead me on a
level path.
11 For your name’s sake, O
Lord, preserve my life. In your
righteousness bring me out of trouble.
12 In your steadfast love cut off my
enemies, and destroy all my
adversaries, for I am your servant. (NRSV)

Now, usually I'm not a big fan of this type of Psalm. All the "smiting of enemies" and "destruction of adversaries" doesn't mesh well with my peace-loving and peace-making personality. Today, however, having spent yesterday just trying to breathe deeply to abate my stress and anxiety,
it occured to me who my enemies were. They are not people, they're feelings.

Not all feelings, of course, but those destructive feelings that leave me (and many of us) frozen and feeling awful and vulnerable to illness: Stress, Anxiety, and Helplessness.

So as I read it, every time I saw the word "enemy" or "adversary" I thought "stress." I found myself more and more relaxed and comforted as I went through the verses. Save me from my stress, God. Adonai, rescue me from my anxiety. It just about brought me to tears.

May this Psalm also be a blessing and comfort to you in your times of stress, trouble, and anxiety.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Look at me--a "real" blogger!

Ok, so the other day I mentioned very quickly being a "founding blogger" at a group site. Well, here's the rest of the info.

The site is Everyday Citizen, and is basically what it sounds like--a site where everyday people blog, mostly about current events, politics, culture, stuff like that.

Today I wrote my very first post for them (gotta love avoiding writing a sermon), and you can find it on my Everyday Citizen "home" page here.

Enjoy! (Oh, and pray for inspiration from the Spirit as I try to move this sermon along. Don't worry, it's not for Sunday!)

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Remember "Polly?"

Ok, this is simply a plug to try to get something I want. When I was a kid, Sunday night, once a month or so, Disney would show these great made-for-TV movies. Michael Eisner was always the host, walking around Disney Land and running into Mickey. My dad was great and taped them for us, and some of them became true favorites, like 1989's "Polly."

Not to be confused with the later theater release featuring a parrot, this was an adaptation of "Pollyanna," featuring an almost exclusively African American cast including Keisha Knight Pulliam as little Polly, and Phylicia Rishad as Aunt Polly. They made it a musical, and it was a huge hit--for Disney and for our family.

However, they've never released it on video or DVD00at least not here in the US (apparently they released it on VHS in the UK--why they felt a story of African Americans set in the South in the 1950s would sell better over there than here, I don't know). And although I've now discovered that I can watch some of my favorite musical scenes on YouTube, it's just not the same.

So here's where you come in: Disney has a site where requests can be made for movies to be released on DVD/video. Here's the one for "Polly." Go and request it, and tell all your friends, neighbors and co-workers to do the same. Post it on Facebook and MySpace. Even if you haven't seen the movie, join the campaign. It's that good, and you won't regret it, I promise.

This movie was far too great a success for them to have waited this long to release it (Keisha is a day older than I am--meaning she was 10 when the movie was premiered). Tell Disney you want "Polly"--and "shine a little light!"

Update: They did make DVDs of both Polly and Polly Comin' Home, available exclusively to Disney Movie Club members. I joined just for these movies, which I have since given as gifts to my two sisters but have yet to purchase for myself. Go figure.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Just a quick check in

I am a bad, bad blogger. It's been almost a month since my last post...and this one won't be really of any significance. I apologize. It is my last semester of seminary, I just got a new second job, have a final 15-20 page paper due in about 2 weeks that I haven't even chosen a topic for, nevermind starting, and my senior project is due April 1. Yikes. But I'm trying to breathe deeply and take everything one step at a time.

So I just wanted to check in, and hopefully soon I will post something deep and meaningful. I will tell you about the new group site where I'm a "founding blogger" (although they haven't gotten a post from me yet either). And I will talk a little about my Lenten journey.

Until then, blessed be!

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

50 Books in 2008

Ok, so I'm a little late getting to New Year's resolutions. I don't like making them, because I don't like setting myself up to fail. Most times, I get ideas in my head, but don't write them down or get them clear, and just try to slowly weave them into my life as I would at any other time of year.

One of my "ideas" this year was to become more a part of my church community. So far, so good. I came back from my trip feeling much more at home there.

Then I have the usual "work out and eat better" thoughts, although I'm trying to extend those to reducing the number of processed foods I eat. At the moment, that's on the back burner until the kitchen on our floor is finished being remodeled.

I didn't really have anything else in mind, until this past week. My brother-in-law had resolved to read a certain number of books this year, having almost met last years' goal. I thought that was a pretty good resolution. Me being practically born with a book in my hand, I'm always glad when someone else tries to increase their contact with the written word, but didn't think a resolution like that was really necessary for me.

But then I read a novel (The Other Boleyn Girl, if you're curious). Though I was slow starting it, once I got into it, I couldn't put it down. I was reading a page here, a page there, at every moment I could steal. It's not that I don't read much--hello, I'm in seminary for goodness' sake. But I don't often make time to read for pleasure, to read just for the simple joy of being caught up in a well-crafted story.

Then this week I was on Facebook, catching up on the myriad of groups to which I belong, when I popped in to look at the discussion board for the group "Reading is Sexy." A fabulous group for the nerdy, bibliophile types like me (whose membership is over 44,000). The discussion title "50 Book Challenge" caught my eye. The original posts were from April of last year, but the idea is that from the day you start, you have 365 days to read 50 books.

The combination of a good challenge (which is difficult for me to pass up) plus my newly rekindled passion for reading led to me posting and taking the challenge. I decided that I would just use 2008, though we're already part way into it, and count the 2 books I finished before I took the challenge. I also gave myself the concession that I can count homework and "professional development" books as well--something that may help me get through the 29 books related to ministry I've checked out from the library because they looked interesting.

So, 27 days into it, I've read 4 books. Not a bad start, I'd say. My first considerations for a Lenten practice may help me along as well, but I'll get to that in a later post. And hey, I have a little advantage taking this challenge in 2008: it's a leap year, so I have an extra day to read!

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Life in the Light of the Gospel

I recently received my "Weekly Seeds" Bible study resource from the UCC, and in the middle of the commentary, the question is posed: What would happen if we approached every decision in our lives by shining the light of the gospel on it?

Though I just skimmed through the rest of the commentary at the time, that question stuck with me. And I even took it a step further: what would happen if I approached every aspect of my life by doing the same? Now, let me just say that this is not simply a "What Would Jesus Do" thing. This is a chance to read through the Gospels, look at not only what Jesus said and did, but what those around him said and did, and then think about how my life reflects that.

I don't claim to know the Gospels so well that I can easily quote any part of them, but I would think that if I were intentional about it, I could look at my life through the light of the gospel from the moment I woke up until the moment I fell back to sleep that evening.

The commentary probes whether we fit our faith to suit our lives rather than making our lives fit our faith committment, and also addresses whether we should feel "comfortable" when following God/Jesus. Unfortunately, I can tick off a few ways I bend to comfort, rather than gospel, in just my first hour of consciousness in the morning.

In realizing that, I realize that this task of shining the light of the gospel on all aspects of my life could get overwhelming and tedious. So over the next few days or weeks that I reflect on this question, I'll do so in small doses. I'll take just that first hour to shine a light on my coffee, my shower, the clothing I put on. Then maybe I'll shine a light on my decision to start my day with prayer or not, to exercise or not, to eat breakfast or not (and if so, what am I eating?). And so on.

I have no illusions that I'll get to a day lived perfectly in the gospel. But awareness is a powerful thing. The best I can hope from my experiment is that I am more aware of the choice between following God/Jesus and an ordinary, comfortable existence, and a reminder that this choice is often not as big as dropping the nets and leaving our lives behind (although, take it from someone who knows, sometimes they are, and we'd best be prepared for those too!). I think I'll also probably discover that one can live quite happily and in comfort while following the gospel, with a little change of perspective.

I'll keep you updated on my progess, and if you decide to conduct a similar experiment in your own life--or segment of your life--or have already done so, please share!

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I'm Back! First Reflections on NOLA

Phew! It's been a whirlwind couple of weeks. First, I took an intensive 1-week course at another seminary. The day after it ended, I left for New Orleans on a mission trip. I'm starting to catch up on e-mail and get back into my normal routine, but I am still deep in reflection about my experience in NOLA.

I would say that the strongest impression I have about the city of New Orleans is that it is a study in contrasts: black and white, destruction and rebuilding, culture and tackiness, hope and despair.

Many in my group were suprised at how many places in New Orleans are still destroyed and deserted. In any given neighborhood that suffered severe flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2004--for the storm itself caused little damage-- there may be as many as half the houses still with crumbling walls, spray-painted X's on the front, and tattered blue tarps on the roof. Large strip malls in those neighborhoods were still empty. On the other hand, it is clear that New Orleans is slowly but surely renewing itself. Piles of debris on the sidewalk meant someone was returning home to clean-up, repair, or rebuild. Stores had "we're back!" signs in the window.

There is still much work to do, however. One of the most striking moments for me was driving to our work site through a higher-end neighborhood with some truly gorgeous (and huge) houses. One house, which could almost qualify as a mansion, looked just fine, until I took a second look and realized it was still empty. The stone fountain in the backyard was tilted in the ground, and the curtains looked ragged. I wondered about the home's owners. Why had they not come back? Financial reasons? Had their insurance company not given them the money they needed to repair the damage? Were they afraid of another storm, or of the high crime rate? I don't know.

In the days and weeks following the flooding, as the death toll rose, the SuperDome emptied, and the waters subsided, I heard various comments about God's role in the disaster, including comments that equated the damage with God's wrath for the sinfulness of the Big Easy. Theologically, I don't believe in that type of thing--particularly because I believe that God is on the side of the poor, and they were the most affected by the events of Katrina. I do, however, believe that God's presence in New Orleans is now quite evident. From the resolve of natives to make things right, to the young people in AmeriCorps working to rebuild, to the multitude of groups from all over the country who continue to make trips to help out in whatever way they can, I saw God working to restore the city.
The group I traveled with ranged in age from 25-68, some with high skill level in construction and some who'd never even picked up a hammer, and yet we all were disappointed when we couldn't work as much as we wanted to. I fell in love not only with the city of New Orleans (I'm already trying to figure out when I can return), but with the people in our group. I'm sure I'll reflect more on this experience in the weeks to come, but for now, I am simply grateful to have worked with such an amazing group of people in such an amazing place.

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