So I haven't written a blog post since March. Honestly, I have not had the creative juice to think about writing a blog post. COVID happened, and all my creative energy went to creating worship for my congregation and staying sane. But as the pandemic wears on and online worship continues, I think I am adjusting.
The first thing you should know is that I am enjoying creating worship in a new way. Do I miss seeing people in the sanctuary? Yes! Am I thrilled that there are now people joining worship and theological study from all over the country? Yes!
When COVID started, I immediately knew that I would like to prerecord services. I know some folks prefer livestreaming. Others are doing a hybrid of livestreaming and prerecorded; some are intentionally keeping a low production value as they think that adds authenticity. I think whatever works for your community is what is best and authentic.
But I knew providing the best worship service that I could was important to me and that means prerecorded. Here is why: I learned a very important lesson from my maternal grandparents and great aunt about what it means to be a Christian and worship. They did not often go to church in person, but they watched church on television A LOT. I may disagree with the theology expressed by those television evangelists, but they reached people. And the people they reached felt a connection to the show, the preachers and worship leaders, and God.
This was particularly true for my grandmother, who regularly supported many of the programs' financial ministries. She would also call into prayer lines and send letters. She felt like she knew the preachers, and she knew her Bible. She tuned in religiously. As I said, I might disagree with the theology, but I will not diminish their impact on my grandparents’ and my great aunt's faith.
So the thought of prerecording a worship service did not scare me, nor did I worry about losing a personal connection. I have enjoyed being forced to think of new ways to worship, new ways to share Bible stories, new ways to engage people.
After too many years of being worried about the future of the Church (that’s big “C” Church, not just the congregation I serve), I am excited. I am excited to see people connect in new ways. I am excited to think of new ways to talk about church membership. I am excited to think about new ways to support mission and ministry. I am excited about bringing the message of grace and hope alive for people in new ways.
Things will not go back to normal, and that is okay with me; normal really wasn't working as mainline denominations have been in decline for years. So, friends, I am not waiting for things to get back to normal to be the church again! I am not waiting for things to get back to normal to make plans for new ways to worship. I am going to plan and live and worship in the here and now in the best (and safest) way I can! We are at a pivotal point in the church's history, and those congregations and pastors that embrace thinking of a new way to be church are going to be the congregations that speak to a new generation.
I mentioned in my last blog that while being available to impose ashes at the train station, some folks didn’t want ashes; they just wanted to chat. One such man asked me what the church was doing to get Millenials to attend church and if I understood all that social media stuff.
When I was on social media (Facebook) later that day, I saw a meme and I stopped and studied it for a while and pondered the question I was asked earlier. Memes, in general, are not great sources of theology and many of us post them just because they are cute or maybe witty. But I wonder if we are doing a disservice, not only to ourselves, but to those who might be on Facebook and interested in Christianity. What if your only introduction to the Christian faith was through Facebook memes?!?!
I am sharing a meme for us to consider. On the surface, it might seem fairly innocuous but I want you to really read what it says and think about it.
(Go ahead, read it and think about it.)
If you were a non-Christian considering Christianity as a way of life, what would you say if you saw such a meme? What does it say about God? And maybe even more importantly, what does it say about the Christian faith?
Here is what I thought about when I read the meme. The first line says I asked God, “Why are you taking me through troubled water?” The question is not, ‘God, are you with me when I am in trouble waters?’ Instead, it is questioning God as to why God is taking us through a difficult time.
I wonder why we blame God. Why do we need to believe that God would require us to go through troubled waters? Who wants to believe in a God that constantly tries to trick us or tempt us or test us? And frankly, if you are trying to learn about Christianity, how interested are you going to be in believing in such a petty God?
I have no interest in a God who “takes me” through troubled waters. I have no interest in a God who wants to trick me somehow. I have no interest in a God who must test my faith. My hunch is that when we find ourselves in trouble, we are looking for someone to blame for our predicament and because we don’t want to blame ourselves, we choose God and wrap our choice in poor theology. Thus I am in troubled waters NOT because of my own poor choices BUT because God decided to test me.
The second line: He replied, “Because your enemies can’t swim.” My response: in Matthew 5:43-44 NRSV, Jesus says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
I get it, the meme is trying to be funny; but what does it say about the Christian faith to a non-Christian? If you are someone who wants to learn more about Christianity, why would you want to be part of a religion that has a God who will kill other human beings? Yeah, I know the meme is referencing God’s drowning the Egyptians in the Red Sea which is essentially God killing the Israelite's enemies, but didn’t Jesus come to give us a new law, a new way of interacting with others? Isn't the point of Christianity to follow in the way of Jesus? To strive to live these words from Matthew 5:43-44: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
You might think that I am making too much out of a meme. I argue that if Christians had paid more attention to what we said and how we treated others in the past, the Churches in our country would be growing. Instead, people have either left or have no interest in attending/joining a church. And why would they if the best we can offer are memes with poor theology?
My colleague imposed ashes on my forehead first thing this morning.
Today, as I have for the last three years, I met said colleague from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in town at the train station to provide ashes for early morning commuters. I was amazed at the varied folks who approached me to receive ashes. Some sheepishly. Some quickly. Some reverently. Some boldly. Some didn’t want ashes; they just wanted to chat. One offered to pay me. A couple offered a blessing to me.
Afterward, as I ate breakfast, (obviously, I am not fasting on Ash Wednesday) I wondered at what it all means – Ash Wednesday. I did a quick internet search and learned a bit. The imposition of ashes started as a Roman Catholic ritual, as so many rituals do. The ashes are often made by burning the palm branches from the previous Palm Sunday (or, if I am honest, they are simply purchased online). The ashes symbolize two main things:
That is a great description of what Ash Wednesday means, or at least what it meant historically. We Christians like to talk about our sin and about how our sin is forgiven. Honestly, the talk of sin makes me somewhat uncomfortable. Maybe it is the tradition in which I was raised, Pentecostal. We knew all about all kinds of sin! But does God really care if I play cards or dance or let a four-letter word slip out?? Is that sin? Or is sin those actions that hurt ourselves, our planet, and one another?
As I was not fasting over breakfast, I was reading through the news and catching up on Facebook. There was a story about a pastor who said, “Coronavirus will stop if China accepts Jesus.” I usually shake my head at such ridiculous stories and keep scrolling. But today, on Ash Wednesday, when we Christians are meant to remember our sins AND strive to correct our thoughts, I stopped. Today, I think we Christians have a lot of repenting and contemplating to do.
We condemn those who are different (we progressives are just as guilty; we just condemn different groups of people). We equate nationalism with our religion. We argue over who should take care of the poor. We hoard what is ours. We support killing other humans (I am looking at you, war and capital punishment). We kill our planet. We exclude. We shake our heads when other “Christians” say the most hate-filled things and then keep scrolling.
Ash Wednesday is meant to remind us that underneath gender and race and nationality and belief, we are humans that are born and live and then die. I wonder how many people are going to remember to grieve their sins and then strive to be better, more loving, more accepting, just . . . more. I want to say, “I will remember! This Lent will be different!”
My colleague imposed ashes on my forehead first thing this morning. Every time I see my reflection, I am surprised to see the smudge of ash. If I cannot remember a smudge of ash for one day, how am I going to remember to work on being a better person this season of Lent?
My colleague imposed ashes on my forehead first thing this morning.
We were in Houston over the weekend visiting two of our grandchildren. We have six, and expect a blog post at some point in the future about what it means for me to have six grandchildren. I, of course, love all my grandchildren. They are such unique individuals. The two in Houston I have known their entire lives and even had the great honor of baptizing. I have loved watching them grow and turn into amazing little humans.
One day on our trip, we went to our bedroom and our granddaughter had left a note on our bed. I admit to getting a little teary-eyed. She listed “Five Main Reasons Why I love Papa & Dale.” We had taken them to the movies and shopping earlier, so I was expecting something along those lines. This is what she listed (emphasis hers):
The fact that a nine-year-old looks at me and thinks those things about me fills me with all kinds of thoughts and emotions. Do I really always have room in my heart for others? Am I always thankful for what I have? Am I always kind? I do try to be mindful of what I say and do when I am with my grandchildren. I don’t want to teach them my bad habits. I don’t want them to learn my phobias or prejudices. I want to model for them what it means to be a compassionate and caring person. Here is the thing: I didn’t realize that they were watching so closely. My granddaughter, without even knowing it, has challenged me to be better and work harder.
My grandson is inquisitive, funny and full of love. He is musical and artistic.
Here is what my grandson has taught me:
One of the reasons for this particular trip was to see our granddaughter compete in gymnastics. When I was nine, I think I was still figuring out how to ride a bike! She does amazing (at least to me) feats on all the apparatus.
Here is what my granddaughter has taught me:
Whitney Houston sang a song that is always in the back of my mind when I am with my grandchildren.
I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride
To make it easier
Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be
Greatest Love of All – Linda Creed, lyricist
My goal is to be the person my grandchildren think I am and to learn how to be that person by watching and learning from them.
Why yes, I am a vegetarian. Well, actually, a pescetarian. A vegetarian eats a mostly plant-based diet, including eggs and dairy. A pescetarian eats a plant-based diet, includes eggs and dairy and aquatic animals. I am most often asked, simply, “WHY” or, “don’t you miss BACON?!”
The reason a person chooses to move to a plant-based diet varies by individual. I have flirted with being a vegetarian/pescetarian for years. I would go weeks at a time without eating meat, often as a way to diet and lose weight. I always felt better during those times. I know that our meat industry is terrible for the environment, and that would be a good reason for me not to eat meat. But the real reason is I have seen too many videos on the way animals are treated when taken to slaughter (I mean, the word “slaughter” is enough to make me want to stop eating meat) AND too many videos showing how smart pigs are and how sensitive cows are, and it makes me sad to think about eating another creature that displays a level of intelligence and sensitivity.
Once people stop trying to convince me that I don’t need to be a vegetarian/pescetarian, that I can eat locally farmed and slaughtered animals, they ask me if it’s hard to give up meat. Meat itself? No, it’s not hard to give up meat. Learning a new way to cook and grocery shop? Yes, that is hard. But for me, worth it.
Being a vegetarian/pescetarian crystallized for me when I started researching for a sermon series on the wisdom of Mister Rogers, who was a vegetarian beginning in the early 1970s. He was famous for saying, “I don’t want to eat anything that has a mother.” The more I thought about his statement, the more it resonated with me, although I like to say, “I don’t want to eat anything that has a nurturing mother,” which is how I feel better about eating aquatic animals.
This is a journey to being, for me, a better and more spiritual person; and maybe that is the driving force, spirituality. I don’t want to have a part in the brutality of meat processing. I also know the cruelty that is present in our dairy industry. I have pretty much given up milk; cheese is what I have to deal with next! And eggs would be even harder, which is why I try to buy cage-free and free-range eggs from local farmers. This is also a journey to health for me; I come from a family with a history of heart disease and diabetes. I, personally, am healthier now that I don’t eat meat. I no longer have heartburn and acid reflux.
What is the point of this blog post? Not to convince you to be a vegetarian/pescatarian. But if you want to be convinced, just do an internet search on slaughterhouses. The point for me is to invite people to stop laughing or joking when I say I am a vegetarian/pescatarian. I think they laugh because it makes them nervous and as we know, anything that is outside of the norm often makes people nervous. I invite people to stop feeling sorry for me; they say they feel sorry that I cannot eat meat. Trust me, my quality of life is not somehow diminished because I don’t eat hamburgers.
But maybe the real point of the blog is to invite you to simply be mindful of what you choose to eat and the effect it has on the environment, your body and other living creatures.
As you may know, this summer, we went on vacation in Hawaii. On the Big Island, we stayed in a wonderful house. It was off the beaten path on the Kona side of the Island. There was not a straight road to be found; there were twists and turns, ups and downs, bumpy patches of pavement, and mongoose darting across the road. It always took a while to get where you were going.
Driving home from the movies, after our return to the mainland, we were on a road that was straight, straight, straight, no twists just predictable right angles to change course. I admit to thinking it was nice to be on such a straight, smooth road. I didn’t have to pay as close attention I just drove and let my mind wander; I knew what was coming. I remember thinking life should be like this; straight and predictable!!
Then I started looking through the pictures from vacation and I was reminded of the astonishing beauty along the roads in Hawaii; plumeria and hibiscus blooming everywhere, lush green vines and breathtaking views right around the bend in the road. All the twists and turns, ups and downs forced me to drive slower and stay alert.
Maybe that is how we should live life, understanding that the ups and downs are part of living. That things will always dart out in front of us forcing us to stop or change course. Embracing the twists and turns, remembering that the hairpin in the roads of our life are turns that can bring entirely new vistas into view. Pocahontas sings Just Around the River Bend in the Disney movie by the same name. As she sings, she asks Should I choose the smoothest course Steady as the beating drum? Or do you still wait for me, dream giver Just around the river bend? I pray that I will always embrace the ups and downs, darting distractions and the twists and turns so I can see and experience and live just around the bend.
Welcome to my blog. While I am a minister in a Christian tradition, not all my blog posts will be religious; instead, the blog will be my observations about spirituality, life, love, and whatever else happens to be on my mind!
As a way to get to know me, here are a few of my favorite quotes:
“There is no place like home.”
“Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don't you think?”
“A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others.”
― L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
The quotes are from the classic movie “Wizard of Oz.” I grew up in Kansas and had a strong affinity for the movie. One of the reasons I love the film is because I identify with Dorothy – well, right up to the point that she decided to return to Kansas. What was wrong with her? Oz was a magical place, or at least I thought so.
When Judy Garland, as Dorothy, sings “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” I am transported. She has me hooked with the first verse:
Somewhere over the rainbow
Way up high
There's a land that I heard of
Once in a lullaby
Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true
I wanted to be somewhere where dreams came true. I didn’t fit in very well in Kansas. I was bullied as a child and suffered horrible night terrors. I had no idea what was wrong with me and in my mind, obviously, something had to be because I was not happy.
I didn’t like sports, watching or playing! And it was more than not liking sports. I was bad at sports, always picked last to be on any team. I so wanted to be just like Dorothy and end up somewhere over the rainbow, never mind the fact that Dorothy wasn’t understood on the other side of the rainbow either. When someone is different, it can take time to figure out that our differences are what make us special, and everyone is special.
I still love the song “Over the Rainbow,” but even more, I love the version by Israel Kamakawiwo`Ole, who combines it with “What A Wonderful World.” You can listen here:
When we learn to live as our authentic selves, we can begin the work to make this world wonderful. I hope you will join me on this journey.
I attended seminary at Louisville (KY) Presbyterian Theological Seminary and have served churches in Indiana, Illinois and Missouri. I have also worked for the national offices of the denomination in Louisville.