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!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Photo Journaling

It has been a few weeks since I've posted here; lots of stuff has been happening - a ramp up in fundraising for the trip to Guatemala, a trip to DC (to be blogged about later), snowstorms, and Lent has begun. This year, Ben and I (along with Natalie, our current housemate) are posting everything we eat on Intstagram with the hashtag #40daylentchallenge. Social humiliation diet (although I do appreciate what my friend on Facebook said about it being an alternate form of table grace. There's a post in there somewhere).

I'm also doing the Rethink Church Photo-A-Day project (again on Instagram with hashtag #rethinkchurch). Fun times. I enjoy taking pictures - and it's a lot easier since my parents got me an Eye-Fi card for Christmas (yay mom and dad!) It essentially uploads pictures to the internet straight from my camera.

One day, I hope to do more with my photography - especially when it comes to editing pictures and enhancing colors and the like. I feel like I have a decent eye to begin with; I try to get shots that convey a meaning and a message and are fun to look at -- and that tell a story. I am looking forward to going to Guatemala with my camera for just that reason - the opportunity to tell a story with what I capture.

More to come: a debrief from the Global Board of Church and Society Young Clergy Leadership Forum, my fun new hobby (yes, I will survive the zombie apocalypse), and some thoughts about liberation theology. Stay tuned!

Friday, February 01, 2013

Unfinished Projects

This is a picture of my current knitting project. Pretty, right? It's super fun and easy to make (pattern here). Problem is, this may be the 20th craft project that I've started.

I love starting things. Books, computer games, projects - doesn't matter what. But I really stink at finishing. Sometimes, as is the case with some books, I discover half-way through that it isn't worth my time finishing it and so back it goes to the library, the end never to be revealed to me. (I used to feel guilty about quitting books, but there are so many good books out there that I shouldn't waste my time on the ones I don't enjoy). Sometimes, I don't finish projects because I don't want the good times to end. This happens mainly with computer games or TV series (for instance, I haven't seen the last two or three episodes of Firefly. Yes, I do have Netflix).

Usually, though, it's because I love to start new projects. I get bored with the old stuff. I have two-thirds of a sock on a set of needles. I have a lacy pullover I've been working on forever. I have a skirt that just needs some light finish work (think: elastic band). I have two cross-stitch projects that will take me until I'm eighty to finish (no matter how much I work on them). I have a wedding present in process...from five years ago. Oops.*

I should really take pictures of all these works-in-progress for some accountability purposes. I could make it a goal to finish some of these projects by the end of the year. I could have all of you, dear readers, encouraging me on to get them all done.

But that would just be another project to start...and never finish.

*This doesn't include the unfinished projects that I inherited from both deceased grandmothers. Yikes. I'm totally going to be them when I'm older. I pity my poor future grandchildren.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


This past Sunday, Ben and I announced to Good Shepherd UMC that we'll be leaving to go to full time ministry with The Vine as of July 1, 2013. We are excited to embark on this "new" adventure with God though we are also sad to leave behind working with the congregation in a pastoral capacity. (If you want to read the announcement we e-mailed to our folks, you can find it here.

What excites me the most is that we have this splendid opportunity to go "all in". For me, this is "make it or break it" territory. We have this incredible chance to really see what God can do with us being single-minded and focused.

We've got some funding (for a little while). We've got some passionate people gathered around us. We've been itching for the chance to get to this point for a long time now - not to say that there weren't good reasons for waiting until this point. There have been a number of timing challenges that taught me patience and trust in God since we've landed here in Haverhill. That being said, this change will bring about significant changes in the way of life that Ben and I will be living - changes that, all in all, will be good for us and good for The Vine.

So this bumps up the house hunt (we really don't want to be doing incarnational ministry underneath a bridge). It also adds a few things to our plate about how we transition well and set Good Shepherd up for success with whomever their new pastor will be. We're also undergoing a shift in structure with The Vine as we focus more on creating micro-missional communities that reach out into specific neighborhoods or population groups. There's enough work on our plate for a year that will be crammed into less than six months. Add to the mix the mission trip to Guatemala, and yeah...I'll be lucky if I'm not carted away on a stretcher come the end of June.

It's all good though. That's the wonderful thing.

Remind me of that when in a couple months I start panicking.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Office Hours

One thing that I have been very bad at that many of my colleagues in ministry do on a regular basis is: have office hours - times when they are available specifically for conversation and counseling and the like. These office hours take place in a variety of settings - some at a church office, some in coffee shops or bookstores, others in parks or street corners (certainly when it is warmer out!). 

So today I decided that instead of working out of the house, as is my usual pattern, I would work at Wicked Big Cafe downtown. I was meeting someone there for coffee later in the afternoon before going to volunteer at Emmaus later in the evening. Yay me for getting out of the house! I posted a quick update on Facebook to invite people to drop by if they wanted to chat or hang out. 

I want to do this more regularly. It's good to get out, to get regrounded in the community, to smell the fresh coffee and watch the people walk in and out and absorb the atmosphere of a place. It's been far too long since I've made this a regular part of my routine. It's important for those of us who love the places we live and for those of us seeking to make God's dream real for a place to be out in it on a regular basis -- at different times and places, encountering the people whose stories make up the narrative of the place. 

I guess in a sense, I have office hours all the time -- when I'm out walking the dog, when I'm sitting in the cafe with a good book or a good friend, when I'm behind the counter at Mitch's place serving the evening meal. Every conversation is an opportunity for encounter and transformation -- not just for the other person, but for me as well.

Just some quick Wednesday afternoon thoughts for you all.  I'm late for Emmaus. Catch you later!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Being in Mission

I'm getting ready to go on a mission trip this Spring - the first international mission trip I have ever been on. I'll be going with a group from my denomination to Guatemala to help an organization called Project Salud Y Paz. Salud y Paz operates health and dental clinics that primarily serve the Mayan population in Guatemala - a population that is extremely impoverished.

Grace, a woman connected with The Vine, will be coming too.

There's lots to do to get ready - update my passport, get vaccinations (no fun!), and we have some reading to do. I'm tackling A Theology of Liberation by Gustavo Gutierrez.

So - look forward to me writing some thoughts about the book, and when I'm there, writing about my experience in Guatemala!

If you want to help get me (and Grace!) there - you can do so here.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Last Day of Vacation

I always end vacation with this vow to do more of "x" or less of "y". This time, I'm trying to resist the urge (with the exception of blogging a bit more frequently...and maybe getting to the gym more often).

I find vacation generally helpful for starting new routines or for strengthening already established practices. I know there are things that I'm pretty terrible at (time management and the inability to say "no" being two of the top ones), but coming back from vacation always seems like a wonderful opportunity to press the reset button - to take back control of my schedule, to plan ahead, to work and live at a sustainable pace of life.

But I also think it's important to be able to show grace to yourself, because a lot of times what creates the angst is the "shoulds" -- I should be eating better, I should be praying more, I should be wasting less time, etc - and all you end up doing is putting pressure on yourself for a goal that you yourself set in the first place.

My hope as I enter back into "reality" is this: that I accept each day as a gift and let go of the need to have some sort of ideal schedule or pace, but rather that I learn to follow the rhythm that each day brings...knowing that within each day there is a time to rest and a time to work and a time to play.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Blog Overhaul. Again.

Every year I get this same itch: to start writing again and put my thoughts out there on a regular basis. Problem is, I never seem to carve out the space to do it unless I'm on vacation, and I never seem to know quite what to write about. Should I focus more on the ins and outs of planting a new community? Should I talk more about the day-to-day living stuff? Should I pick a theme like cooking or knitting and make myself accountable to you all, dear readers, for actually completing the various craft projects I set out to do? Post a picture of something interesting every day? So many choices.

For the longest time, the tag-line of this blog has been "theological musings, random observations, and everything in-between."  That pretty much covers most of what my journey has been about in going on to perfection (in the good Wesleyan sense!). Maybe here is the space to help best make sense of the day to day stuff in light of the bigger picture stuff - life and God and creation and all that jazz.

So here's to another creative outlet (like I really need one). I promise I'll be better about regular updates!