Thursday, October 13, 2016

"It seemed to them an idle tale"

“But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” The words from Luke 24 keep bouncing around in my head as I tune in to today’s news.

Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women who stood by Jesus’ side all the way to the cross, while the male disciples ran for their lives, had come to Jesus’ tomb to anoint his body. When they got there, the tomb was empty, and they were greeted by two men in dazzling clothes. The men told them that Jesus had risen from the dead, and remembering the way Jesus had explained how his life would unfold, they knew it was true. He had risen! So, they ran to tell the men. 

As Matthew tells the story, Jesus himself sends the women to proclaim the good news of the resurrection. Sure, the testimony of women was considered worthless back then, but Jesus entrusted them with the greatest testimony of all time.

And the men? When they heard what the women had to say… Well, these words “seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”

As a woman preacher, I’m thankful that the people in my congregation take what I have to say seriously. To my knowledge, my words aren’t dismissed as nonsense. Mary Magdalene’s problem isn’t my problem. After all, it’s 2016, right?

And yet, I watch the news of the day and I’m reminded of those for whom the testimony of women "seems to them an idle tale."

Why do so many women still have to endure this crap? Why, whenever women dare to confront sexism or misogyny, does it “seem to them an idle tale?” Why, when women speak the truth about their experience of harassment, abuse, rape… why does it “seem to them an idle tale?”

I’m sick to death of women being dismissed, discredited, and dissected whenever they dare to speak truth to power, challenging male domination and violence that is alive and well in the United States of America. Will we ever get past this?

Friday, October 7, 2016

Presidential candidates, politics, preaching, and Jesus

The 2016 presidential election has been a challenge for me as a pastor. I have never endorsed a candidate for any office from the pulpit or in any way that would be imposing my choice on others. Not only would that be illegal, but it would be unfair and unwise. I minister to and with people who take a variety of political stances. It’s important that they know I am a pastor to all of them.

That being said, I would be surprised if there is a single person in my congregation who doesn’t know how I’ll be voting in this presidential election. It’s not a secret, and if they ask me, I’ll tell them. Not many people have asked. I suspect it’s because either they already know the answer, or they don’t want to hear me give an answer. 

This is a contentious election. The bonfires of passion are burning for all candidates, but particularly for the ones representing the two major parties. Unfortunately, most of that passion seems to be fueled by an almost irrational hatred toward the opposing candidate. It’s not so much a passion FOR as AGAINST. 

Every time I hear people say that we never have had such a divisive time in our country, I don’t know if I want to scream or laugh. Such a comment reflects a narrow view of history. If you look at the history of politics in our country, it’s been one scandal after another, one challenge to the constitution after another, one division after another. Not to mention that little event we call the Civil War. So, this is nothing new. It doesn’t mean that things have never been worse, it just means we’re not progressing, which is just as troubling.

A number of people around me are lamenting the fact that on election day they will be forced to vote for the lesser of two evils. Well, when I think about all the times I’ve voted in presidential elections, and there have been enough of those that I’ve lost count, more times than not, I felt like I was voting for the lesser of two evils. In all those years, only once did I drink the kool aid. Only once did I invest myself personally in a presidential candidate. Only once did I contribute money and actively work in a presidential campaign. (That one time was in 2008 and I am already grieving the day Obama is no longer our president.) I’m usually not an enthusiastic voter in presidential elections.

This time around I will be voting for Hillary Clinton. I don’t always vote for a democrat, although lately it seems to go that way. At one time I was a big Hillary supporter, and then when she ran in the primary against Obama, she said things that I couldn’t fathom. I saw that she would do anything to get elected and it made me sick. Ever since then, I have not been a fan. I didn’t want her to run this time mainly because I know there are so many people who detest her and she has so much baggage. I voted for Bernie in the primary. But I’ve warmed to Hillary again and can say that I won’t feel nauseous when I vote for her in November. That’s the best I can do. 

I know there are people in my congregation who disagree with me and that’s okay. It’s not my job to convince them that I’m right and they’re wrong. 

My job is to show them Jesus. That’s always my job. We say we’re followers of Jesus, so we’d better be clear about what that means. Week in and week out, that’s what I hope I’m doing—showing them who Jesus is and what it means for us to follow him. 

So here’s one of the things about following Jesus that there’s no getting around. You can’t do it a little bit. It’s not just one thing in a list of many things we’re striving to do in our lives. If you’re following Jesus, you’re all in. That means that the Jesus Way determines how you do your job, how you relate to your friends as well as your enemies, how you treat the poor and the marginalized, how you spend your money, how you drive in traffic… everything. Including, how you vote. 

Some of the members of my congregation will not be voting as I do in November. I will not be disappointed in them for that. But I will be disappointed if they don’t vote as followers of Jesus.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Big deal

Tomorrow afternoon, I will be installed as senior pastor at Ascension Lutheran Church in Towson. I haven’t wanted to make a big deal out of it. For one thing, this will be the seventh time that I have been installed into a ministry position. Six of those installations have been in congregations. It kind of feels like making a big deal out of a wedding after you’ve been married multiple times. It's embarrassing and a tad tacky.

And then, there’s the whole matter of being the center of attention for a day, which makes me want to run and hide. I’m far too self-conscious to enjoy having all eyes on me. I wish there were a way to begin serving in a ministry setting without having a formal installation. 

Well, despite my best efforts to blow it off as a low key Sunday afternoon alternative to football, people all around me are making a big deal out of it, so I’m going to have to suck it up and enjoy it. 

I can do that if I remember that this isn’t really all about me. It’s about a new beginning for the people of Ascension. In the two months that I’ve been with them, I’ve become increasingly aware of how blest I am to be in this place, with these people, at this time. Pert near every single day they amaze me, and I offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the opportunity to serve with them.

Those who know me best know that I don’t like surprises. When I read a book, I’ll get two or three chapters into it, and I can’t stand it, I have to know how it ends. So, I’ll flip to the end and read the conclusion. I do the same thing when I binge watch TV shows on Netflix. I’ll watch a few episodes, and I have to go to the finale or it makes me nuts.

Serving in a new congregation is like opening a new book without any access to the concluding chapters. It’s stepping out in faith, trusting that the story is going to unfold in God’s time. That’s both hard for me and exciting. But really, it’s the way all great adventures begin. 

And so, that’s how I’ve decided to look at my installation tomorrow. It is the first chapter in a great adventure I’m embarking upon with the people of Ascension. I don’t know how it will end, but I know God is leading us, I have high expectations for our journey together, and I trust that getting there will be the best part. 

Yes, I suppose it's actually a pretty big deal.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Passion, faith, and just a touch of craziness

I’ve been ruminating today about Labor Days past. Hands down, the most memorable for me was  Labor Day 1977. I had just begun my internship at St. Martin’s Lutheran Church in Marine City, Michigan.

Marine City is a magical kind of place right along the Saint Clair River, which connects Lake Huron and Lake Saint Clair like a little patch of ocean separating Michigan and Canada. It’s not all that wide (you can easily see the Canadian shore), but it’s very deep. So humongous freighters pass by from all over the world, and you can see them up close and personal, like you’re standing on the side of the freeway watching semi-trucks go by at a snail's pace. At night I would lie in bed and hear the ships blowing their horns. The water was deep blue. In the winter it froze, and then when it broke up in the spring, the ice chunks had a brilliant turquoise cast that looked other-worldly. 

My internship supervisor, Howard, was completely enamored with anything having to do with the sea. Every morning he ate breakfast with a retired captain and his cronies in a little restaurant that looked out onto the water. He kept track of the ships that would be coming our way that day and knew them all by name. 

On the first day of my internship, a new freighter, the longest ever, was coming down the river, and Howard was like a six-year-old on Christmas morning. I was in the car with him as he drove down the road watching for it. As soon as saw it, Howard quickly turned onto a side road and drove down to the river, where we got out of his car to watch the freighter go by. As I recall, he took pictures. Then we got back into the car and drove to the next side street and did the same thing. We did this all the way down the river. I can’t remember how many times we pulled down a side road to get a view of this massive freighter making its trip down the river. I do remember that I stopped getting out of the car with him. And I also recall wondering at the time, “Good Lord, what have I gotten myself into?”

Not long after I began my year of internship, Howard really wanted to get me out on the water. Although later he bought a boat, at this time the only seagoing vessel he owned was a canoe. It sounded like fun to me. I enjoyed canoeing, so why not? On Labor Day, we put the canoe out on the water. 

Well, in hindsight, I have to say that it was insane. Can you imagine being in a tiny canoe, paddling in choppy water as deep as the ocean, while you’re looking up at ocean-going freighters? It was bordering on terrifying! (I do have to admit that the adrenaline rush was one of my best ever.)

The next day, when I told members of the congregation how their pastor took me canoeing on the Saint Clair River, they were incredulous. Some were furious with him for putting me in that kind of danger. 

Now, I don’t think Howard was a madman. He simply had a passion in his life, and he wanted to share it with me. What may have seemed crazy and maybe even foolhardy to most people, was an adventure for Howard. He wanted me to experience it as he did. 

As I think back on my year of internship, I don’t remember much that I learned. I’m sure I learned a lot, I just can’t remember exactly what it was. But I do remember that Labor Day paddling like crazy alongside the big ships. I didn’t know enough to be afraid at the time. And I remember trusting Howard, a man so smitten by the sea that he wasn’t about to let a little thing like not having the right kind of boat keep him on the shore. 

There’s a metaphor for ministry in there for me. 39 years later, it still holds true. What may appear foolhardy to some people has been an adventure of faith for me. I never caught Howard’s love for the sea, but I like to believe that I did catch the way he embraced life – with passion, faith, and just a touch of craziness.

Ascension 101

I’ve spent the month of August getting to know the people of Ascension Lutheran Church in Towson, Maryland. I made flashcards to work on names and faces. (The stack of cards stands about 8” high!) But the main way I’ve gotten to know them is through a series of cottage meetings, 15 altogether. As of today, I have 13 down and 2 more to go. They’ve been graciously hosted by folks in their homes, where anywhere from 6 to 30 people have shown up. 

As a talking point, I asked each person to bring an artifact that represents who they are. These have been fascinating little widows into their lives. They’ve brought well-worn Bibles, vacation photos, original artwork, and weird things like a turkey syringe, a saddle, and a temporary tattoo.  At nearly every event someone will joke that they brought their spouse as an artifact; I’ve heard it so many times that I’ve come to expect it. Some of the best stories have been from people who forgot to bring their artifact; they haven’t spent a whole lot of time thinking about it and odd little episodes from their lives pop up. Many of the stories I've heard have been hysterical and some tearful. At each event, not only have I learned something about my new faith community, but they’ve learned about each other as well. It’s been a great way to begin my time here.

As I reflect on these gatherings, here are my take-aways:

1.     Maryland is in the South. Yes, people here consider themselves Southerners. Who knew?
2.     I realize that where you attended school reveals something about the way you were raised and how you experienced the world, but I’ve never been any place where people were so interested in learning where you went to high school as they are here in the Baltimore area.  
3.     People tend to live here forever. And if they should happen to move away, sooner or later, they return.
4.     Not only do they live here forever, but their ancestors go back for generations. I don’t know what the equivalent to coming over on the Mayflower is in Baltimore, but whatever it is, the ancestors of those who got here that way are still living here.
5.     At Ascension there are so many people who are related to one another that it’s an ecclesiastical version of incest. (And this is not a small congregation.)
6.     People who aren't from around here are warmly welcomed. The natives will gladly tell you all you need to know so you can love Baltimore as much as they do.
7.     The very young and the very old are cherished by the members of Ascension.
8.     The people in my congregation are enthused about horses, the Orioles and crabs.
9.     I have yet to hear one person say a negative word about any former pastor of the congregation. (As someone who will one day become a former pastor of Ascension, this brings me great comfort.)
10. Overall, the people at Ascension are more Lutheran than I am. It courses through their veins and it’s very clear that “Here I stand.”  (It’s not always that clear for me, and I often find myself standing here, and there, and over yonder, too.)