Sunday, December 14, 2014

Old Habits Die Hard

Since The Vine's ministry ended in October, some of you have wondered what we've been up to.

The same week we held our final worship service, I started working more regular hours at Lakeview Kitchen, a specialty grocery store that offers delicious paninis, soups, baked goods, chocolates and everything that is wonderful about food. I have joined the ranks of those who are on a regular work schedule - Tuesday through Saturday, 11:30 AM to close.

I enjoy what I do. I get to talk to customers, advise them (to the best of my limited knowledge) on purchases, make lattes, stock shelves, assist with record-keeping, take orders, and generally be hospitable and helpful. Connecting with people is great. In some ways, it's not too different about certain aspects of our ministry in Haverhill, except my interactions with people are (1) way more limited and (2) very fleeting. But I feel like if my conversation or interaction with someone can, in some small way, make their day better, then I've done my job well. Even on difficult days, I have a sense that if the people who visited the store had a positive experience, then it's all worth it. I enjoy my coworkers, my bosses are great; it's a lovely place to work.

Plus - everything in this store is delicious. I'm surprised that I haven't gained weight working here because literally, I am surrounded by amazing chocolate, delectable cheeses, mouthwatering scones and cookies, and much, much more. I'm also surprised that I don't spend my whole paycheck every week on yummy things to eat! (Ben would probably not appreciate it if I did that...)

The challenging piece of all this hasn't been the work. Work has been easy. It's how everything else fits in that has been difficult. Over my time in Haverhill, I've accumulated several different community hats, many that fit authentically with what I enjoy doing with my time and energy and that also fit well within the framework of how I envisioned my ministry in the city. I've found myself having to choose and prioritize how I spend my time (something I'm not great at to begin with). Add this to the mix of still being so unsure of what comes next long-term, evaluating options, wrapping up loose Vine ends, being worried about the present and its demands, and it's pretty stressful. There hasn't been a lot of room for good self-care (I take whatever I can get, which usually ends up being mindlessly watching TV in the evenings when I am home and football marathons on Sundays).

Most of the time, I don't let myself think about it. I have so much on my plate and I know how to deal with being overwhelmed with multiple demands, so it doesn't bother me as much as it really should. Juggling is familiar. Overworking is familiar. Going in fifty thousand different directions is familiar.

I know this pace of life isn't sustainable. It hasn't really allowed me to process or grieve the loss of the Vine. It hasn't really allowed me to start preparing for whatever might be next for us. It hasn't really given me the space I need to listen to God's call and to think about who I am apart from this thing called pastoral ministry. (I've thought about all these things some, I just haven't been able to really reflect on it all). I keep telling myself that it's just for a season - just until after the holidays, just until January, just until the next vacation or whatever. In reality, though, I'm not sure I know how to live differently.

I'm in the process of transitioning out of a few things I'm involved with in the community - some sooner and some later. The challenge will be to rearrange my plate so that the important things get priority...and not to get back into bad habits.

There is grace in all this, somehwere. Grace is in having a wonderful, loving husband who patiently puts up with me rushing everywhere and running out the door five minutes behind schedule nearly every morning. Grace is having a supportive family who will listen when I'm having a stressful day. Grace is going for a morning walk with the doggies and seeing a beautiful sunrise (when I'm up that early). Grace is having an unexpected quiet evening at home, snuggling with the dogs and with Ben and having a Parks and Recreation marathon. Grace is dinner with friends. Grace is knowing that despite the crazy, busy, unsustainable pace of life -- it'll all work out in the end. Grace is knowing that life is good.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

You can lead a horse to water...

Ben's been writing a lot about his story and experience of The Vine over at godlovesthiscity.wordpress.com. I'm sure many of you that read this blog also read his, but if you haven't found your way there yet, I encourage you to take a look. The process (and especially some of the feedback he’s gotten) has helped me think a bit about my own journey and about the purpose of church and community.

One of the (many!) lessons this journey has taught me is that church is a place where people were being discipled so that they could go out and in turn make disciples of Jesus. I don't care how that disciple-making happens - if you make one or if you make 200, if you talk about your faith non-stop or if you just to live it...a disciple of Jesus makes other disciples of Jesus. Faith is not a consumer product, something to be plucked off the shelf at the WalMart of Life along with your other feel-good items for Good Living. Faith is a daily, lived out process of learning to follow Jesus and teaching others to do the same.

However, we often treat the church as a provider of religious goods and services and not as a place for disciple making. (Incidentally, it makes me laugh everytime I see the line “other than intangible religious benefits, no goods or services were provided in exchange for this donation” on giving statements from churches).

I think this is the most challenging concept for us in our culture to understand, and certainly one I think few in our churches understand. We’re used to evaluating our lives based on what gives us the most benefit - spending time on the things we value, spending money on what is important to us, connecting with the people who can give us the most in return. This kind of consumer thinking certainly played into my leadership (whether I was always aware of it or not). It feels good when people come to worship and get something out of what you have to offer. It’s great when you plan an event and everybody has a great time. It’s wonderful when people start financially supporting your ministry. But - that doesn’t necessarily mean you are making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Jesus doesn’t want your time or your money or your relationships or your programs or events. Jesus wants your life. All of it. Not in piecemeal chunks (as if we could make a monthly….or weekly...payment), but everything - in one down payment of 100%. For me, that means I have to carry myself in the world as Jesus did. When I look at the way Jesus lived and how Jesus taught, I see this kenotic, self-emptying life that looks nothing like the consumeristic lifestyle our culture eats, sleeps, and breathes.

If we’re really trying to follow Jesus as a disciple, I don’t think we can place value on Jesus or church on what benefit it is to us as individuals, but how it benefits our community and our world. When those who participate in the church are primarily in it for how it benefits them, you get a community of people looking inward to their own needs and wants. It forms a community that is dependent upon its leader for all its spiritual needs. Discipleship is viewed as spiritual self-help, something that helps me and my own.

However, if we think about following Jesus in terms of the impact on the world around us, discipleship is less about us and our needs and more about others. Discipleship becomes about learning and growing in the ways of Jesus so that we can be the hands and feet of Jesus to a world that needs to be reminded of the hope and redemption that waits for us all. Discipleship becomes about how we are the body of Christ, called to go out and disciple others. Following Jesus in community with others means that at some point, the discipler steps to the background and lets the disciples step up, trusting them with the vision and mission of being the church out in the world.

I've always felt like my role as a pastor was to put myself out of a job (not, incidentally, in the way that happened with The Vine.) As a leader, my role was to disciple and empower people to take ownership for living out their own discipleship (including how they were discipling others) as well as ownership to live out their own sense of vocation in ministering to others. I've seen some wonderful examples of this in church settings from faithful commitment to volunteering at a local thrift store to working for agencies that help the homeless to investment in personal relationships to people encouraging one another using The Artist's Way.

I celebrated when there was something going on in the church that I, as a pastor, did not plan. I gave thanks when the seed of an idea took root and I knew there were capable leaders in place. It was wonderful when there was something I started that I could hand over to someone waiting in the wings because it would be an opportunity for them to grow and learn in their leadership and discipleship.

To be sure, I didn’t do this perfectly - in my own discipleship or in my own leadership. Our community wasn’t perfect either; you will always have a mix of people with a variety of motivations for being there - and that’s OK. The church is imperfect because we are all imperfect people.

But I believe that as the church adapts to the changing culture, it needs to rediscover this principle of discipling others to make disciples. No longer can we stand out in the market square, offering our religious goods at a discount price, because there will always be something better out there. Instead, we need to be living like Jesus, engaging others like Jesus did, trusting that as we do so, our world will be transformed.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Photographic Ventures


If I'm honest with myself, I've been interested in photography for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, all four of us had fun taking pictures and putting them into albums and I would love to look through the old pictures of all of us as babies and of my parents when they were younger.

I have always wanted to take a photography class...but in high school I was too scared to take Art Fundamentals - the pre-requisite to the photography class offered. I figured that I couldn't draw and I didn't want to risk humiliation (and a potential crappy grade). Plus, I was (am) someone who compares her work to other and in the face of perceived lack of talent compared with the artistic gifts of some of my peers...well, as a teen the choice seemed obvious.

Same deal in college. Get through the 101 class to do anything interesting. Or test your luck with the JanPlan class that always filled up immediately when registration was open.

Here, there are community classes that are titled, "Get To Know Your Digital Camera." I feel like I'm a bit past that.

I plan on taking a class at some point, because I'd love to learn about composition and lighting and aperture and focal length and maybe even doing some fun dark room stuff. Just because I think it's cool.

I've had a few folks over the past few weeks share with me around my gifts in this area. I'm thankful for their encouragement and support and affirmation. I've never really thought about having a natural eye before. I'd love to hone it a bit.

In the meantime, I'm going to see if there is any interest in people actually doing anything with my images. I don't expect a huge sum of money (or even very much at all), but in this season, I feel like "why not? Let's see what happens."

So - visit me at http://instaprints.com/profiles/melissa-yosua-davis.html. Let me know if there's anything you like!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

In our end is our beginning...

"Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal." - John 12:24-25, The Message

I've been thinking about this scripture a lot lately. Tonight, we announced to our community that The Vine's ministry in Haverhill will be ending next month. There are a lot of reasons why this is the case: leadership capacity, financial, mistakes we've made, etc. I won't go into a full dissection of everything right now. We've been at this work of planting The Vine for 5 years and if it doesn't take, no amount of fertilizer, coaxing, singing or whatever is going to make it stand on its own. Hanging on to it  and forcing life into it would just destroy this beautiful vision of what church is and could be.

That isn't to say that there hasn't been fruit and that we haven't been church. I'm so glad that we're leaving behind a legacy of God's love and grace and that we have blessed people in our city we haven't even met. There have been parties and laughter and trash pickups and drum circles and tears and games and worship and prayer. Lives have been transformed. Neighborhoods have been cared about. People who have been forgotten have been remembered.

So even in the face of so much change and doubt and worry - I think about this passage. It's appropriate for this time of year when plants begin the transition into death and decay -- all the while spreading the hope of new life throughout the earth. I hope the same is true with The Vine; that even while we are in this time of letting go, the seeds of new life and new beginnings will be scattered, take root, and grow in ways that are beyond our imagination. We have to let it go, trusting that pieces will live on in the people we connected with and in the city we were blessed to love in this way.

But endings still suck, and we are all greiving and there is a lot of this that I am still getting used to. I have no idea what is next (jobs? anyone? What jobs can an M.Div get you?).  I trust that it all works out to good things -- and I really do trust that -- but sometimes getting there is not a fun journey. So pray for us. Pray for Ben and I, pray for the people who belong to The Vine, and pray for those whose lives have been impacted by this grand experiment in church. Pray that we can grieve and end well together: with stories, and laughter and tears, knowing that new life awaits.

If you'd like to read our "official statement" about the close of this ministry, you can find it here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Rhythms and Routines

I've been "back" from sabbatical for over a week now. Re-entry has been difficult and more than a bit draining! I've been trying to work through this fog that I've been calling "sabbatical brain." Basically it covers the multitude of tiny errors I've made as I've readjusted to reality. The largest culprit? Forgetting to look at my calendar before scheduling events. Having nothing to do and nowhere to be for seven weeks has shifted my default response to any invitation to "Sure! That works great!"

So that's been my response so far to pretty much any invitation and at least I've had the presence of mind to decide I should put it into my calendar...at which point I discover that I probably should have checked my calendar first before responding. Back on the job for not even a week and I've nearly double-scheduled myself three times. I clearly have to get back into the habit of checking my calendar.

But that isn't what I wanted to write this blog post about. I meant to talk about a few practices that I started (or maintained) over sabbatical that I want to continue doing to help establish some healthier ways of being.

First off - I'm done with balancing. Balancing is for gymnasts and bank accounts. Maybe your diet, too. When I take a look at everything I have on my schedule and between work, personal needs, family, volunteer commitments, second and third jobs, friendships, God, spiritual life...there's no way anything is balancing out. At least, not in any way that makes me a sane human being. Instead, I prefer to think about rhythms. It was a great boost when I heard Nadia Bolz-Weber speak earlier this year coming to similar conclusions about rhythms vs. balancing. It made me think that maybe I'm on the right track in my approach! In any case, I've decided that setting some daily and weekly (and monthly!) rhythms ensures that (1) everything gets done, (2) I'm in a better frame of mind, (3) I can better attune myself to my own needs. There will be times where life is at a faster pace and times when it is more laid back.  Establishing a rhythm means during those faster times, nothing will fall through the cracks, and during the slower times I won't dismiss practices as unnecessary.

To that end, here are some practices that I have maintained or integrated into my rhythm of life that I plan on continuing:

(1) Daily Prayer. Ben and I pray from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals every day. Every Friday, we open our home at 8 AM for people to join us. Sometimes, we bribe people with food. Daily prayer (and especially using this particular resource) has been helpful for grounding me regularly in silence, prayer, and Scripture. I've found it to be a very helpful way to start the day.

(2) Running. Oddly enough, Ben and I have been running three times a week since right after Easter. We've kept it going during sabbatical and have done two for two since we've gotten back. I've even purchased gear for colder weather. I love running (most of the time!) and it's helpful for working out any tension or anxiety. Yay endorphins!

(3) Protein for Breakfast. Eggs. And bacon. We ate a lot of bacon over sabbatical. A lot of bacon. Because of the price, bacon can't be an every day thing (sadly), but eating more protein and less starch for breakfast has helped me stay fuller longer, and given me more energy to make it through the morning. Eggs, cottage cheese, yogurt, avocado - all good things that I want to keep on my plate in the mornings.

(4) Meal Planning. I love to cook, but when life gets full, this is the first thing that goes, and then we end up eating things that are unhealthy and convenient like Domino's or ice cream. Every week, there will be healthy snacks in our house (like my new favorite homemade hummus recipe or crock pot yogurt for smoothies), and one night a week we will have a killer meal that takes loves and energy to prepare and that we will not eat in front of the television.

(5) More knitting. I knit so I don't kill people. (Seriously, it's a bumper sticker). Maybe it's not quite that extreme, because it has been awhile since I've knitted on a consistent basis, but over sabbatical I had the opportunity to work on quite a few craft projects (and finished a second sock!  Woohoo!). I watch enough television (between sports and the few shows I follow) that I should be able to manage completing projects on a regular basis.

(6) Second walks with the dogs. It's good for me, and it's good for them...because they are getting a bit pudgy. It makes them happier, too, and it's a helpful quick break in the middle of the day. Much better than frittering 20 minutes away on Facebook or Twitter. Keep those steps over 10,000 each day...or every other day....or at least four times a week.

These are just a few things I've found helpful. Finding things that nurture me that aren't extra add-ons to the day that are easily integrated into the natural course of the day or week. I think the world would be better off if we stopped trying to balance our way into happiness and started dancing our way there instead.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Summer Sabbatical

For the past three and a half weeks, Ben and I have been on sabbatical leave. Much like missionaries who have been out in the field for awhile and come home to rest and renew, we've felt the need for a respite from our work. For the past week or so, we've been resting in Williamstown, MA out in the Berkshires. Honestly, we haven't done much but sleep, read, eat, and sleep some more...which has been great and sorely needed.

Our culture doesn't do rest well - if we do rest at all. We live in this world of full appointment books, constant to-do lists, always running from one thing to the next.  Rest happens when you are too burned out or tired to meaningfully contribute anymore, and taking time to disengage from the busyness of life is oftentimes looked at as a luxury that few can afford to take....there's just always so much more to do.

I've kept a sabbath day for about the past 10 years. One day each week where I do not work. I don't pick up the phone, I intentionally engage in activities that I enjoy doing, I spend some time reading or reflecting -- anything but work. Jesus said it was important to keep the sabbath...and I see why. Everyone needs a time - weekly - that work stops, where sacred space is created, where we disengage from all the doing that distracts us from ourselves and remember what it means to be human.

I remember how impossible one full day seemed when I first picked up the practice. I was in college with a fairly busy schede; between rehearsals, classes, and schoolwork, I was sure that I would never be able to find a full day where I could simply do I whatever I wanted. But I had been challenged to pick up the practice, so I did. Sunday ended up being a particularly convenient day at that point in my life, so I decided that I would not do any classwork on Sunday. I attended worship, was in a Bible Study in the evening, and I watched football. It meant that I had to manage my time more efficiently during the week - but it was wonderful to be able to set all the work aside for a day to connect with people from my faith community and engage in the things that gave me life and energy.

I kept the practice up through seminary and as I entered into professional ministry. Monday is the day when both my husband and I do no work at all. We set aside the busy-ness of our lives and do the things that help us reconnect with ourselves (and help us become a bit more human again).

Just as we need this weekly rhythm, we need seasonal, yearly, and other cycles of rest and renewal. 3dm teaches that we as human beings were created to rest and work...but we aren't created to rest from our work, but work out of our rest. Our work comes out of our abiding in Jesus, out of being sure in our identity as God's beloved. When we fail to work out of that core of our being, our work is fruitless and we get burned out.

So even though my husband and I keep this weekly rhythm of rest and work going, we felt that we needed this time of greater rest to reconnect with ourselves in a way that will lead to greater fruitfulness in the future. So far, the journey has been about renewing ourselves physically -- lots of rest and regular exercise. As we move past the halfway point, I'm getting ready to start doing some more things with our time. We have our seventh anniversary next week, we scheduled some Tanglewood visits (including seeing Wait Wait Don't Tell Me!), and visits to art museums in the area. I have a few craft projects in my bag (and a few more books to read).

I am looking forward to a few more weeks of rest and renewal!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Annual Conference Reflections

I do this kind of a post almost every year -- if not publishing it here, at least in my journals...or in my head. The annual debrief on how I experience the throes of a dying institution and my own sense of inner conflict about (1) my place, and (2) my purpose in connection to it.

I try not to be cynical, but inevitably about halfway through the proceedings I throw in the towel and sigh and realize that, yet again, things aren't going to change. In fact, it feels like things are devolving. It's not just about the heated level of debates on the floor but about what is (and isn't) said. What was missing for me this year was conversation about how resolutions connected to our mission - both as an Annual Conference and as disciples of Jesus (the latter being way more important, in my opinion).

The writing is on the wall. Death comes. It happens to organizations and institutions - it's painful and scary but new things can be born. Will our strategic plan stave off death? No. Will our statements about affirming marraige for all people regardless of orientation change the trajectory of our denomination? No, but at least we'll die being more inclusive and justice-oriented.

I think there's still some life left -- and a lot of life that will carry us through into the future and the unknown. I see life in local congregations that connect with their community; I see life in people who have been changed by their relationship to Christ through their church family, I see life in the stories of changed neighborhoods. I see life in faithful Christians who recognize that the ground has shifted and the way we embody Christ to the world has to change.

But the institution? It's time has come and gone. The language used, the style of worship, the way we structure ourselves -- it's based on this model of Christendom that has long since left the culture.

So what about me? I've decided that I don't care much about being a good pastor (in the way the conference would recognize it). I care more about being a good disciple of Jesus. Right now, the best way for me to live into that is by creating this new faith community as a "pastor" so I can disciple others to disciple others. Maybe one day the best way for me to be a good disciple of Jesus will be to have another job that will enable me to disciple others to disciple others. I care about God's kingdom being made real and tangible in my city and in the lives of those around me - whatever that looks like. I care about relationships with people and the ways Jesus is present whether I'm in the coffeeshop, the bar, or at a worship gathering.

Would affirmation from the institution be nice? Sure. I owe a lot to the Conference and to the people and congregations who have nutured me and shaped me. And a tiny part of me thinks it would be so great to jump down the rabbit hole of BOOM papers and CPE and become part of the club. Except the club doesn't really feel much like Jesus - as a whole. Lots of wonderful disciples who make up its ranks...but I think being a good disciple of Jesus is enough for me.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Downtown Worship

Today was a new step for us at The Vine; we held our first worship gathering downtown at a lovely spot called the Artist Cafe. We've formed a great partnership with the owner between (1) eating here all the time, and (2) renting the space every other Friday night for Game Night.

When The Vine started outgrowing living rooms, we knew that we would have to move to a more public location soon. Worship also started becoming a place where people wanted to check us out (and going over to a stranger's home can be a bit of a barrier to some). At the same time, we didn't want to rent a sterile environment -- many community rooms boast linoleum tile and flourescent lighting -- and we wanted a hospitable, warm, welcoming space.

And so we figured the Artist Cafe was perfect place. The walls are covered with local art. The food is delicious. The space is flexible enough for our current needs, with space for an art table in the back and Ben's keyboard and a small altar table.

The spirit this afternoon was really good - people quickly settled in, connected, and hung out. No kids at the kids table -- but having a space for people to create some art while worship was going on ended up being a stroke of genius. Saw a few new faces as well.

We do worship twice a month now, so our next gathering is in two weeks. Looking forward to it!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Suffering from Second Sock Syndrome

I started these socks in April of 2012 when I was on vacation. I finally finished the first one yesterday. It's not that this pattern is particularly time-consuming or difficult -- I just was so hesitant to finish it because I don't like this color yarn with the pattern. It really obscures the stitches and it's a bit too neon for my taste.

I asked my knitter friends on Facebook if I should just buckle down and finish or make a different sock with the same yarn - intentionally mis-matched socks. The results were mixed...but a couple friends pointed out that I am suffering from Second Sock Syndrome. (It's a real thing. Follow the link).

After doing a bit of research on the internet, there are several ways to cope with this situation.

1) Learn how to knit socks using the Magic Loop method. This is a method that allows you to knit both your socks at the same time! You use two circular needles and it looks very complicated but a lot of people swear by it. I'm going to have to have someone show me how to do this since the pitures on the internet confuse me.

2) Alternatively, use two sets of DPNs and knit them at the same time using the different sets. Appealing...mostly because I love the feel of using DPNs.

3) Turn it into a competition. Can you do it faster than the first (and still have them come out the same size)?

4) Put the sock away for awhile and come back to it later.

5) Cast on sock number two right after you finish sock number one. Channel your exuberance and enthusiasm for finishing the sock into starting the next one (discovered here).

6) From the Chicago Knitting Examiner: "For the truly desperate, there is always a final straw: knit one sock and tell people that the other one was lost in the dryer." -- Love this.

7) If you are making them as a gift for someone else, that helps reduce the likelihood that you'll quit after one sock.


8) Suck it up and do it.

I'm opting for the 3rd option with a healthy dose of options 7 and 8. Largely because my big problem is that I have 20 projects going at the same time (scattered across knitting and cross-stitch) and I love to start new things before finishing old things (socks, books, computer games - it doesn't matter. I'm an indiscriminate starter). Even though it's vacation and I should be able to do whatever the heck I like, I think I'll feel good when I finish them. They were going to be for me, but they really aren't my color - so I'll make them for someone else and I'll have one less Christmas gift to think about.

Today's project: see how far I can get with the next sock.

Rest and Relaxation

Every time I stop for more than a few days, I get the itch to write again. I remember a time several years ago when I was writing regularly - not just in a journal, but in a blog for public consumption. Those were times when life seemed simpler. Well, maybe not simpler - slower paced, perhaps. I was more vested in the intstitution, school, seminary, etc...and then I started working in the local parish. Most of my creative energies went into writing sermons (which, if you know me well, was always a struggle) and not being completely worn thin by the strain of balancing two very different faith communities, marriage, connecting meaningfully with my city, and having a life outside of those three things.

When I take the time to get away from the balancing act, and stop to rest, that urge to write comes back.

I've been working through The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron with a group of other women from The Vine these past several weeks. We've been taking it slow - since all of us have full plates. Part of the discipline you commit to is writing "Morning Pages" - three pages of handwritten "stream of consciousness" meant to get out all your inner junk so that you can focus on being more creative throughout the day. That, paired with "the artist date" (an uninterrupted period where you take your inner artist out on a date - done weekly!), is supposed to help your creative recovery.

Since moving last month, I have not gotten back into this rhythm of Morning Pages and Artist Dates. Life has just proved to be a little too chaotic - between getting the dogs used to the new house, wading through piles of boxes, and not knowing where I put any of my folders, pens, files, etc. All while trying to keep working and stay sane. Moving is stressful.

But between moving and this nice vacation, I feel ready to get back into the swing of things - at least in terms of writing here regularly. Fresh start and all that jazz. We'll see how long it lasts....

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Moved In

Ben and I have been homeowners for a little over a week. We've been living here since Saturday, which was the big move day. I am so thankful for all the friends and family who came and helped us move! As we've unpacked, we've discovered a lot more things to give away (sorry for not discovering them sooner so you all didn't have to move them for us). We've gotten rid of two couches, one to someone who picked it up off the street (yay!), one to the dumpster this morning (sad.) The house is slowly coming together with a few rooms complete and functional. We're creating islands of sanity in the midst of the chaos. It's been fun deciding how to arrange furniture, redecorating the space, setting new patterns of keeping things clean and uncluttered (let's see how long that one lasts).

Let's get one thing clear though: we are never, ever, ever moving again. Ever.

Pictures to come soon (hopefully!)

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Invasion of the Boxes

It's started.



The boxes have invaded. They are taking over our territory. Our living space has been compromised. Chaos is impending.

Packing. It sucks.

Really, we're only moving across town. 10 minutes away. My ideal? Making a gazillion trips back and forth over the course of a week. It would go something like this: put dishes into box, put box in car, drive car, take out box, bring into new kitchen, take dishes out of box and into cabinet, put empty box back in car, rinse and repeat. If we close soon (which is a distinct possibility!) moving could be more like this and less like the scene depicted above where boxes are everywhere and you have no room to breathe.

The sad thing? We actually need more boxes. We've already gone through that entire stack. And we need newspaper to wrap all those fragile things that are getting packed away since we don't need them right now.

Ben and I have been spending 30 minutes in the basement each day for the past month, since that is the biggest source of clutter and chaos. Once we get rid of the year's worth of redeemable botttles we have down there (yes, we're bad at that), it will actually look like a basement again and not like a waist-high junk pile. We've gone through just about every box (and had some good times remembering childhood memories) and weeded and purged and probably have as much to give away as we do to move. Yay.

The theory is that the basement would be the hard part and the rest will be easy. Maybe. We have so much random stuff that is unsorted, and we're trying to chip away at it....really trying to get rid of stuff. When in doubt, throw it out. That's the mantra.

Anyway. Packing. Bleah.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Kingdom Kindness

Two weeks ago, I had this encounter in the Market Basket in Central Plaza here in Haverhill.

For those of you blessed with a Market Basket in your community -- well, you know that you see all types in those stores. More so than in your typical grocery store. Central Plaza seems to have its own special types of people that make life living in an urban setting the adventure that it should be.

But this isn't a story about Market Basket (although I have many opinions about that grocery store and its horrible lack of natural and organic products).

I had just come from working in the garden and before going home, I needed to pick up a few quick items at the grocery store. I was gross, sweaty, and dirty -- and wanted to get home as quickly as possible to clean up. I made my way to the Express lane - which was a mistake. (I have this bad habit that I picked up from my father-in-law of always choosing the slowest lane, regardless of how short it looks).

Ahead of me in line was a young woman who was currently negotiating with the cashier and an elderly lady with three or four items on the conveyor belt. The woman currently being checked out was arranging and rearranging items in her cart, checking totals, and asking the cashier if she could charge this and this separately. I looked up and the light was flashing. Part of me was frustrated -- after all, this was the express lane and if this was how things were going to go down, she should have picked another lane.  I realized that I could be here for awhile and settled in for a long wait. The woman in front of me and I started up a casual conversation (she thought I had pretty skin and wanted to know what products I used...I didn't tell her that hot water in the shower is my only facial regimen). After a few polite exchanges, the line had grown to include a woman behind me and two more people after her.

It was obvious by this point that the woman at the front of the line was getting frazzled. She was trying to figure out if she could afford the pack of bagels she was holding or if she should have the cashier put it back along with some other items. I mean - this was a process. High level negotiations were going on...and I was getting ready to jump ship.

The elderly woman in front of me, seemingly out of the blue, asked her if she had children, to which she responded, “yes, and another one on the way,” turning to show off her stomach. All the ladies started exclaiming over her condition and sharing their own pregnancy experiences (a conversation in which I was clearly unable to be a full participant).


She then explained in embarrassed tones that she was trying to budget out all of the food she was getting - paying for the WIC items first and then using extra change she had to pay for the rest. She turned to the cashier and gave back the bagels, saying that she didn’t have enough to cover the cost.  The lady in back of me said, “You go ahead and get the bagels, I’ll pay for them.” The young woman protested, but the good samaritan insisted, saying, “I remember being in your position. I’ll pay for the bagels, you don’t worry about it.” (To which the gentleman behind her responded, “are you going to pay for my groceries too?”)

The pregnant mother was so grateful for the gesture and so appreciative of the small kindness shown to her. It struck me just how simple it is to show God's love to people around us. While buying someone's bagels at the grocery store may not make the local news, for that woman - who was trying so desperately hard to do right by her kids - those bagels were God's grace. The woman who purchased them may or may not have been a follower of Jesus, but in that moment, she was most assuredly a conduit for God's transforming love and power. In that small, random act of kindness - God's kingdom was made tangible and real.


It's one of the most powerful ways that God's kingdom breaks forth. In the gospels, Jesus likens the kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed - the smallest of seeds that produces the largest of trees. Our small acts of kindness are ways that Jesus makes himself known. String them together and it's a powerful expression of life in the kingdom, with the power to heal, transform, and make us whole.



We have a new branch in The Vine called Urban Kindness. It meets on Sunday afternoons to show some love to the Washington Heights neighborhood. Lately, we've been working on a small abandoned island of green in front of Fantini's bakery (they made a donation to make our Community Garden possible! This is our little thank you gift to them). I hope that as we've been out there for the past few weeks we've been planting more than flowers; I hope we've been planting the seed of hope in the neighbors as they've walked by and seen us in action. I hope we've been planting the seed of community as we've developed a little partnership with the laundromat around the corner who has helped us get water. I hope we've been planting seeds of the kingdom that will be ready to sprout up all over the neighborhood!

Sometimes, it just takes one small action, one small kindness, to change a life. What can you do today to be an agent of God's kingdom?

Friday, May 31, 2013

Living Life Like Jesus

Being a pastor, I spend a not-so insignificant amount of time thinking about the church and about the nature of the church and about growing the church, and about all that stuff that comes with church (some of it good, some of it not). Most of the time, the forest gets lost for the trees; I get so mired down in the little things (who has come recently, what are we doing, who are we reaching, how much money has come in, etc) that I forget one small little thing: what it means to actually be a church.

It was at a gathering this past Sunday that I was reminded of this. A few of our leaders for The Vine were gathered around after an amazing afternoon lauching Urban Kindness, our group that is dedicated to blessing the Washington Heights neighborhood of Haverhill. We had a wonderful barbecue with neighbors - particularly those who have a plot in our community garden and some others who are newer to our community. (We were also blessed that the weather held off for us!)

We were gathered around the dining room table, talking about who we are - and not being afraid to share that (Do we use the dreaded "C" word or not? Is there "inside" language and "outside" language?). One of the leaders said, simply "we're a group that is trying to figure out how to live like Jesus, how we love people around us more and forgive people around us more and how we live into that life together."

It hit me.

Of course, this isn't earth shattering knowledge. This isn't anything I didn't know already. But in the world of benchmarks and strategies, it's an easy truth to lose sight of ...and one of the few things that should never be forgotten.

That's all church is - a bunch of people trying to figure out how to live more like Jesus. Everything else is window dressing. If what we do together isn't helping people become more Christ-like - more loving, more compassionate, more forgiving, more joyful, more generous, more centered in themselves as beloved children of God - then it's not worth doing.

What if every congregation re-evaluated its work and its ministry in light of this one question: is our life together about living life like Jesus? What if we didn't worry about money or butts in worship - but only about trying to live like Jesus did? I suspect that it would be a lot more liberating for everyone.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Therefore be it resolved...

So I used to be one of those people who, at Annual Conference, didn't think the resolutions we passed made any difference. Supporting Fair Trade coffee - great! - but does it really matter Petitioning General Conference about the conflict between Israel and Palestine - what's the point? Who actually listens?

After my time at the Young Clergy Leadership Forum last month sponsored by the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church in Washington, DC -- I get it.

First of all -- how cool is it that the United Methodists own the only non-federally owned building on Capitol Hill? They let the Episcopalians, the Lutherans, the Jews, and the Muslims have space in the building. When the building was purchased in 1923, women were the ones who raised 70% of the money. Granted, they were really concerned about temperance at the time and thought a presence in Washington would lend greater support to their position. While the issues may have changed since then, the fact that the United Methodists have a witness right in the center of power is pretty amazing.

Secondly - our legislated positions as a church (those things that get passed every four years at General Conference) allow the General Board of Church and Society to do advocacy work with the House and Senate. I never realized that we had a branch of the church that did this kind of work. We had folks advocating for the health care bill. We have folks advocating on behalf of the poor, marginalized, and those without a voice. All because we as a denomination take stances on issues in the world.

For me -- this what was missing. We say we believe all these things as a denomination or we pass all these resolutions and it felt like it was just going out into the ether. We can say whatever the heck we like, but unless it gets lived out it doesn't mean anything. The GBCS is trying to live that out - to take what we say we believe and make it real in public policy, in the ministry of our churches, and in our lives.

There's a lot of work to do. One agency can't possibly do everything. This is why it is so important for local churches (and conferences!) to be active in their communities living out their faith and to address issues of injustice where they can. Each one of us can affect change. Each one of us can help God's kingdom be made a little more real in our world. What we say we believe is nothing unless it can be backed up by concrete actions.

I'm grateful for the three days I spent learning. It was a lot like drinking from a firehose, but I discovered I am pretty passionate about food justice issues and how we treat the environment. As it turns out, The Vine's starting some conversations about starting up a Food Co-op because it is so difficult in Haverhill to have access to quality food when the Farmer's Market is not in season, and for many families living on the edge, access to nutritional food is very limited. I am excited about the possibilities of where this conversation will lead, because I believe it will make a tangible difference in the lives of many people - especially as we continue the journey towards health and wholeness.

So thank you, General Board of Church and Society, for all the hard work you do -- not on behalf of the church, but on behalf of those without a voice. Thank you for educating us on the issues, for teaching us how to engage in these conversations from a faith perspective, and for allowing me the opportunity to learn and grow!