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 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 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 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.