Word of the Week

How hard it is for us strong, "can do anything types" to not be afraid of love! Love given and acknowledged always  holds a level of vulnerability that sometimes we simply aren't willing to show. But, that our souls truly need.

This week has been a happy one around our house in particular. In October, there is the week of Kevin as less than a week separates Kevin's birthday from our dating and wedding anniversary. And in February, we celebrate the week of Elizabeth as a week separates Valentine's Day and my birthday. These celebration weeks became an intentional decision between the two of us when we planned our wedding date (and also the farmer's almanac said it wasn't going to rain the town of our outdoor wedding, so we went with a October date-- important too ) . In these two special weeks, we've thought of ways to remember and enjoy life together such as mornings of breakfast in bed or dinners cooked at home (all you city busy folks know what I mean when I add this on the list of a special treat) or sometimes a overnight get-a-way.

In this being "my week" including a special trip together last week (a writing retreat for me), dinner out last night and my super surprise gift this morning: an IPad this morning, I've felt the love.  And, I'm grateful. How did I find myself with so many amazing people in my life?

Sometimes, though, we want tangible expressions of love, but we also don't know what to do with them when they arrive. I remember a fabulous birthday several years ago when I was literally on cloud 9 from all the gestures of support around me and felt paralyzed all at the same time. I think if I got one more birthday card, that year, I would have exploded. And, I know I am not the only one who has been in this place of bewilderment.

When lovely people do lovely things, it is easy to be stopped in our tracks and just not know how to respond. Sometimes we shut down, in the pain of the joy. For, we don't have the room in our hearts to take it in. The act of stretching our hearts to open to others can feel as painful as a long work out at the gym. When our souls have never felt loved in our deepest caves, sometimes love's arrival can actually sting a little. In fact, being loved, just as we are, by others can often be one of the scariest emotions in life.

While watching an Oscar special this week featuring the wonderful actress, Viola Davis, it struck me how authentically she described her own struggles with receiving love. Watch a portion of this interview here. Saying, how much of a radical transformation love became in her as she began to trust the man for the first time who would become her husband. Something as simple as allowing him to drive her somewhere became a symbol of abiding love-- love that was without fear.

I John 4 talks about love's relationship with fear in this way:

16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. . . .  18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love

This is what I am learning about love-- there is no fear in love when it begins to truly seep into our hearts. But, such a fearless stance requires practice and people who are willing to stay in your life long enough that you actually believe them when they say to you, "I love you."

I'm just so amazed that I get this week every year to practice feeling loved and wish the same kind of experience for others too. Everybody has somebody who loves them. Everybody has somebody that they need to tell that they love them. The question on our shoulders, then is: will we love? Or will we be afraid? I want to love.

When is the last time you were really searching for something? Can you remember the last knock out, drag out all of the couch cushions, search every cranny of all of the drawers, crawl under the bed, call lost and retrace your steps until you are exhausted—all in pursuit of something meaningful to you that you simply cannot find anymore?

Yesterday, I was on one of these crazy all-consuming searches that gave the meaning of "coming home" for homecoming an all new meaning. After a week off for vacation, I needed to get home for church this morning.

For those of you who travel a lot, you know that the goal is to always be prepared for anything and to have your plans flexible at all times for you never know what might happen to you. And, as Kevin and I boarded the shuttle that took us from our hotel to the airport at 5:30 am, we were believed we’d  be home from our week of vacation in Curacao (an island next door to Aruba) by late lunchtime and all would go as planned.

However, soon after we got through the long line at the ticket counter, through security and immigration and were patiently waiting for our plane to board at the gate, we got those dreaded five words that any traveler hates to hear: “Your flight has been canceled.”

We were crushed with frustration especially as we learned the only reason our jet would not board was because a flight attendant was not feeling well and they couldn’t fly without her. We were told to go get our bags, leave the terminal and go stand back in line to re-book our tickets for flights that were seemingly non-existent. (American Airlines is not my friend).

I had homecoming on my mind and how important this day in the life of our church was, I couldn’t be stuck on the island, I kept saying to Kevin. . . So, I dashed back to the ticket counter to stand in the long line already forming, hoping God might smile on my travel karma just a little.  Even as tech savvy travelers around me crumbled while looking at their blackberries and I said, “I bet we won’t get out of here for a couple of days, the next couple flights back to Miami are booked” I was determined to search—to find a way to get off the island and at church in the morning.

The series of events in this search were nerve-racking from the beginning.  From Kevin calling the airline only to get the news that we were re-booked to arrive home on Sunday night (not cool), to moving our hopes to  the local airline which boasted of a flight to the US in a couple of hours, to standing in their new long and disorderly lines, to being told by one ticket agent when I finally got to the front of the line that there was one seat on a flight out-of-town for the morning, but  . . . with the catch that I couldn’t buy it there.

I was told that: I’d have to find the airline rental car shed ½ mile away, only to arrive out of breath (I was running in jeans) with the message of: the seat on the flight I was promised was taken.

BUT I could be on stand-by if I walked back a mile and a half back to the ticket counter for another 30 minutes, to then learn finally that there was a seat available (yes, finally some good news in the search!), but then to be told, I would have to go back to the rental car shed (1/2 mile a way but felt more like 2).

There I finally did buy the ticket to the USA to then be told to go back and stand in the ticket line (again) so that the boarding pass could be printed. Only to learn when I got back to the ticket counter that the flight was getting ready to take off and wanted to leave me. Luckily, with some persuasion by Kevin, “Sir, my wife is a pastor she has to get home today (though in this Roman Catholic country I know he was confused as to how I could be a pastor)” the search to get off the island ended as I ran like a crazy woman through customs again. Thank you Jesus that I was on a flight that I hoped would bring me home (though Kevin wasn’t as lucky will probably arrive home later on tonight with his own version of his “In search of” story).

I still think it is a miracle I got off the island. . .

Looking forward to a less eventful week than has this one began.

When I've been around denominational meetings and big picture think-tank type settings lately, I've left such gatherings sad more than anything.  Sad not because the food was bad or the company was boring or even because I'd rather be somewhere else, but because it seemed the church (universal) is more divided than ever, focused on things that don't seem to matter to anyone other than those who are on the inside, and focused more on saving traditions than fulfilling its mission.

It's painful to be a part of and observe and I'm usually not one to bring such a topic up because I like to focus on what is working not what is failing. Yet, the truth remains: there's no mistake that the mainline church is in transition, if you want to use positive language, and dying if you want to be negative.

 In my tradition, the Baptist church, attention and participation in associational meetings is down, especially by anyone under 65. (It's hard enough to get people to come and participate in a local church activity much less an associational event). No one really cares, as much as they did back in 1950, and often those with the time to attend programing meetings reflect the perspective of a generation long past.

I know that such a statement is nothing revolutionary to those of us who have committed our lives to the church and care about it in vocational and personal ways: we experience this tension every Sunday. I know such a statement is what best-seller books in the world of Christian publishing are all about. Leaders who can articulate a clear vision of what the future might hold or how to spin the situation in hopeful ways are authors that we all know about: Brian McLaren, Diana Butler Bass, Adam Hamilton, to just name a few.

But, as a friend of mine who doesn't attend my church, but occasionally attends hers, sat in my living room today and said to me: "You know attending church is really old news. It's just not something people think of doing first on Sundays anymore" I actually agreed with her.

Because this is true, we, as church leaders need to pay attention. We need to stop spinning our wheels on denominational reports that just file data in some tall office building somewhere, Bible studies that don't speak to the questions where most are, and worship services that don't speak a fresh word of God every time they begin. (If we refuse to change, I really wonder why some of our churches wouldn't be better off closing their doors and giving the money they make from selling their property to a good cause rather than just doing business as usual).

To begin a discussion like this is also dangerous, I know, because it assumes I have answers as to what is next; while I'm the first to admit, I'm still trying to figure things out myself.

But, what I do know is that I simply am not interested in activities that take up my time anymore that are based on expectations of keeping the same old conversations going.

Conversations like supporting women in ministry-- we are here, we are as good at our jobs as our male colleagues, and it really shouldn't be an issue anymore.  

Conversations like can gay and lesbian members be welcomed in the church-- yes, they can, churches like Washington Plaza say, come home and worship with us any Sunday at 11 am.

Conversations like why do young people not like to come to our church-- they'll come if you invite them regardless of their marital or the childbearing status and seek to meet their needs the same as you would a middle-aged parent with children or a shut-in.

Conversations like why are ministers leaving the church-- they are leaving the church, especially, the young ones, because they are frustrated with having to live out their spirituality in dead communities when they can find the non-stifling presence of the Spirit of God alive and well outside of the church's four walls.

I love to be a part of imaginative conversations with hard-working, passionate leaders who take their faith seriously and who are willing to see the church as a relevant place of community and service-- not just another institution to maintain. I love to try new ideas in my local ministry context, even if they aren't approved or supported by my denominational offices.   I'm loving trying to figure out how to be a pastor in a unique community in Reston where there is absolutely NO WAY that the same old, same old would ever work.

Want to keep talking about these things? Know you have a conversation partner with this pastor. My hope for the next year is to continue to meet more of you out there who are thinking similar things with the hope that something new is coming soon and its an exciting time to be a part of ushering it in!