God restores my soul…

After my on call hours last week, I crawled into bed with a heavy, sad heart. My feelings were a mess; my mind a sort of emotional blender, as I was tied up in an unresolved situation with a family in my care. (I can’t even go into the details. Trust me. It was terrible.) I wept angry tears. I wanted to punch something. Instead, I prayed, posted a quick SOS to some stalwart prayer peeps, and tried to rest. The phone kept ringing. A fundraiser knocked on the door. I was ready to lose it. Again.

I settled back on the bed, purring cat beside me, and decided that I would recite the first Bible verses that came to mind in a measured, meditative way. What came to mind? Psalm 23? How ironic.

These are the Bible verses that I learned when I was about 6 or 7 years old. I say them with families at the bedside. Recite them at funerals. Listen to hymn settings of these very, very familiar words. A few weeks ago I even blogged about this Psalm here…

But as I closed my eyes and began to speak these familiar phrases, I found myself returning to one phrase, over and over…

He restoreth my soul.

God does restore my soul. The trick I’ve learned as a chaplain is to admit when I so desperately NEED God’s restorative touch. To carve out space in my extroverted self to reflect, review, renew and restart. To operate from a place of internal rest, not external action.

Part of my restoring work last week involved sitting quietly on the patio, listening to the birds and watching the wild rabbits forage for dandelions. I also baked some scones as a gift of love for the high school’s Teacher Appreciation Week. I folded some laundry. Did some stretching. And took a walk about the block.

My soul was still heavy and sad. But there was light, hope and peace in the distance.

Soaking in God's Creation
Soaking in God’s Creation

When I walk back into work this week, the situation may have been temporarily resolved. But I will take up my job of listening, caring and companioning those who are still struggling with its aftermath.

I am a chaplain. God restores my soul.

Life in the Land of Policy Wonks and Faith

There are times that I love living in the DC area. We get so much information and reporting on the nation’s politics. And then there are the times when I get frustrated that the decision-makers and ground-shakers are too far removed from every day people like me.

Yes, I can write my representative and senators (and have). Yes, I can write letters to the editor or post comments on a website. But it somehow seems, oh, “trollish” to use the web. How does one claim a seat at the table? And then it occurred to me… Maybe that’s not the point.

I’m a practical person. I’ve sat on committees which were formed for the express purpose of recommending a policy. The end result was someone (in this case, an administrator from the school system) saying, “well, we formed a committee and after their input, we decided to do _______.” The decision did not seem to take into account any of the suggestions of the committee. It felt like a waste of my time.

There is no perfect model for making policy and moving forward. And yet… It can be enough to move you to inaction.

This week was the National Prayer Breakfast. I met some of the attendees. I heard about some of the topics that were on the agenda. I read about some of the political maneuverings and criticism of the organizers. There is no doubt that it was ambitious in its planning and execution (and got very little press here in the DC papers, before or after. Go figure.)

But what struck me was this comment by President Obama (as reported on Politico):

“I do worry sometimes that as soon as we leave the prayer breakfast, everything we’ve been talking about the whole time at the prayer breakfast seems to be forgotten on the same day as the prayer breakfast. You”d like to think the shelf life wasn’t so short. I go back to the Oval Office and I start watching the cable news networks and it’s like we didn’t pray.” President Barack Obama speaking to the National Prayer Breakfast.

Great point.

prayersSo I’m thinking that when this event rolls around next year, I’ll create my own “national prayer place” somewhere. While other people meet, pray and discuss, maybe I will just meet up with a friend and… pray. Not philosophize. Not strategize. Not jostle for on-camera talking points. Not proclaim doctrinal supremacy. Not aim for a “seat at the table” but just find a place somewhere to pray.

  • Pray for the courage of our elected and appointed leaders to do what is right for our nation and the world.
  • Pray for the insight into solving our biggest gridlocks in health care, government spending and global security.
  • Pray for improving the status quo for the most challenged and vulnerable among us.

It’s on my calendar for 2014 – Thursday, February 6th.

RevGals Friday Five: Still Advent, Baby! Edition

Rev. Pat from RevGals has this week’s Friday Five:

Those of you who are my friends on Facebook know I’ve been trying to post Advent music in this season, which is no small trick because, as you well know, it’s been “Christmas” since Halloween in the world out there! So today we focus on Advent and its music– the good, the bad, the new and the as-yet-unheard!

1. First, do you come from a tradition in which the Advent season is embraced? This is not true for all of us. If you do, what is your personal preference? Do you love it or hate it? Embrace it or want it to go away already? How enthusiastically does your church enter into Advent?

Advent was important in some of my church experiences, and not others. I’m about as much of a ecclesiastic mutt as one can be. I find great beauty in the discipline of WAITING, not rushing to the story of Bethlehem and the Christ Child. In fact, I was jarred by “Joy to the World” being sung last week by the worship team. (Sorry folks. It is NOT TIME YET!) So – obviously – the church where we are serving now calls it “Advent” but stumbles into Christmas frequently.

2. What is your favorite Advent music? (A tiny hint about mine can be found above.) Link to a favorite piece if you can.

Ah… well let’s look at some chant and plainsong, shall we?

There’s Veni, Veni Emmanuel… (And – BIG bias here from a music nerd – I DO NOT like the ones that use instruments and drums in the arrangements!!! It’s plainsong, folks, not a rock ballad! I can handle some strings or harp… limited drums and regular meter… but… OK. I made my point!)

Ad te levavi… (Psalm 25)

In more of a Christian contemporary style, there’s Michael W. Smith’s Prepare Ye the Way. (It was hard to find a version of this song with graphics that didn’t drive me nuts. Maybe just listen to it without the movie…)

And a more contemporary choral piece by Christine McIntosh called simply, Advent Song.

3. What Advent music makes your skin crawl– or at least annoys you and makes you wish it were Christmas already?

Ummm… it is “life in a minor key” for 3+ weeks. But really, it’s not THAT bad.

4. Any Advent discoveries or re-discoveries? Again, we love links– share your music with us!

I’ve alluded to several above and in previous posts related to my Advent scripture devotionals… take a peak. (There’s too many to re-post!)
5. Tell us how your Advent is going this year. Lost in a haze of church busyness? Finding ways to sit quietly in the darkness and wait? Give us your tips for a really rich Advent experience!

I’ve made it point to take TIME for my reading and writing this Advent. Several posts have not gone up because it is not the appointed “time” to make them public. There’s been plenty of concerts, cookie baking, errands, etc. I still have a lot of shopping to finish, but it’s all fun, not stressful at all. Since I am a chaplain, I’m not leading, planning or preaching this year (which I truly miss — the only down side of being a chaplain!) So instead, I’ve been spending more time reflecting and writing.

Advent 2C – Philippians 1:3-11 “On the Day of Christ Jesus”

My first take on today’s reading was, “How the HECK does this fit into Advent?” It isn’t exactly a Scripture that screams baby Jesus in the manger…

A second read, a third read, and I got it. It is that one little phrase:
the day of Christ Jesus

I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers. I’m thankful for all of you every time I pray, and it’s always a prayer full of joy. I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in the ministry of the gospel from the time you first believed it until now. I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus. I have good reason to think this way about all of you because I keep you in my heart. You are all my partners in God’s grace, both during my time in prison and in the defense and support of the gospel. God is my witness that I feel affection for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.

9 This is my prayer: that your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight. I pray this so that you will be able to decide what really matters and so you will be sincere and blameless on the day of Christ. I pray that you will then be filled with the fruit of righteousness, which comes from Jesus Christ, in order to give glory and praise to God.
Philippians 1:3-11 [CEB]

Advent is a time of anticipation in our celebration of the Christ Child. But it is also a longing look ahead — to the return of Christ, when earthly pursuits will cease and the agenda will be set by Christ the King. That’s a bit of a mind-shift from the state of “gimme-gimme” and “buy-buy-buy” that consumes us. It’s a day when our “to do” lists become meaningless.

These verses in Philippians tell us “in the mean time” there are things we need to do. If we follow Paul’s example, we will be very busy! His letter to the church in Philippi is full of action in the spiritual realm.

  • I thank God for you
  • I pray for you
  • I’m glad for you
  • I sure about God’s good work in you
  • I keep you in my heart

I remembered something else as I studied this letter. Paul was in prison when he wrote to this fledgling church. He was awaiting trial and eventual execution. He was destitute without the support of the churches. And the one in Philippi provided emotional and financial support. Despite his discouraging circumstances, he poured himself as an ambassador and encourager for Christ.

There are times in a period of waiting, longing, and even mourning, that it is hard to persevere. The words of love Paul poured out to the Philippians were certainly as a result of the love he had received. What goes around, comes around… for we are all poor, wayfaring strangers. Waiting… waiting… waiting… for the day Christ comes or we go home.

From The Blotter – Part 5

Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. Col. 3:17 The Message

As the liturgical calendar begins a re-boot with the coming of Advent, I turn my thoughts and prayers towards the places God has me at work in the world. I have been pondering where I am in my career path and where God would have me serve in the future. I am not looking seriously for a new job right now, though there are times that I’d like better hours and a regular schedule, but that would not be life in ministry… 🙂

I’m grateful for the work I’m Called to do. So, today’s quotes are important to me because they are about vocation. Think on these words…

 

The price one pays for pursuing any profession or calling is an intimate knowlege of its ugly side.  ~James Baldwin

“Vocation” is distorted by two disastrous misunderstandings: a secularized idea of ‘career’ and a monastic concept of the religious life. Both are less than the biblical idea of vocation… Vocation is about being raised from the dead, made alive to the reality that we do not merely exist, but are ‘called forth’ to a Divine purpose.
The Meaning of Vocation by A. J. Conyers (The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, 2004)

 

When kingdoms rise and wane, Christ is our peace

from http://electiondaycommunion.org/

Consider these words from Ephesians 2:

14 Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. 15 He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. 16 He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God.

17 When he came, he announced the good news of peace to you who were far away from God and to those who were near. 18 We both have access to the Father through Christ by the one Spirit. 19 So now you are no longer strangers and aliens. Rather, you are fellow citizens with God’s people, and you belong to God’s household. 20 As God’s household, you are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 The whole building is joined together in him, and it grows up into a temple that is dedicated to the Lord. 22 Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit.

It’s finally over. A presidential campaign that started years ago is FINALLY!!!! over. I reached my limit of partisan bickering before the party faithful gathered in Tampa and Charlotte to spin their candidates. And I tried, really, I tried, to let a lot of the politics go, and to think about issues of justice, prosperity and peace.

It was not fun.

If you’re just stumbling onto my blog, you might not know that I voted for President Obama. You might have figured out that I was not a Republican iconoclast (perhaps my being female and a pastor clued you in on that one!), and that I leaned towards peace rather than war. You might also have figured out that I care deeply about the healthcare needs of the poor and disenfranchised. Somewhere along the line, you may have discovered that I am so proud of my family and am close to being a crazy cat lady. These are still all true. Mostly. 🙂

Since I am a woman called to preach the Gospel, I believe part of my Calling is to share the reality that life as we know it on this earth is not “the final answer.” And to remind myself on a regular basis that Who or What I put my trust in determines more than how high my tax rates go, or what my children’s schools will be like.

It is an ongoing battle between my personal convictions and deep sense of humility. God invites me to be a partner in ministry. There is nothing more wonderful or more challenging.

I have friends and former classmates who are (still) convinced that our President is a Muslim and was not born in Hawaii. No amount of Snopes.com articles or commentary by conservative pundits will convince them. I know people who live in “red” and “blue” states who voted for the opposite candidate. I have friends, gay and straight, who had very firm hopes for the voting outcomes of Marriage Equality issues in Maryland, Maine and Minnesota.

There are still some outstanding issues from this election cycle that concern me. Either they were skimmed over by the presidential candidates, or they did not get serious debate by anyone. They bother me.

  • I am concerned about the gerrymandered district I live in (Maryland’s Question 5) which was created for no other reason than to get another Democrat-leaning House district.
  • I am concerned about an increase in legalized gambling (Maryland’s Question 7). No, you can’t “legislate morality” but the arguments used in favor of expanding gambling put some of the financially vulnerable among us in a tempting place.
  • I am concerned about global warming and how we will adapt our energy politics to reflect a changing ecosystem.
  • I am concerned about the process and funding for health insurance for all of us. It may mean that the more financially stable among us may have to pay for more. (A side note to my elected representatives in Congress – can you really continue your partisan bickering about health care when you have the most “diamond-encrusted” health benefits of any of us?)
  • Finally, I am concerned about the incredible amounts of money spent in advertising during this election season. Really, I can’t even imagine money with these high numbers! My paltry contribution, added with yours of course, does not begin to equal the “big check writers” for both sides of the campaign. I am moved to pray that we not become a national where “wealth equals winner” for any decision-making process. (If this is something that has not concerned you, take a visit to the FEC website. Click around a little. And pray…)

Last night I posted on “Spacehook” (as one of my RevGal friends calls it) that I was watching the results and praying. A couple of friends noted that they were praying for things to go “the other way.” Blessings upon The Johnnie, who reminded us that “praying doesn’t have directionality.” She is right. Our prayers don’t “change God’s mind.” Rather, they are a way for us to lean into God’s will in a situation.

God is bigger than an election cycle, a cancer diagnosis, or a relationship crisis. May I remember that, and seek to follow the wind of the Spirit, not the emotional turmoil of humanity’s ambitions.

What have you been doing all of your life?

I’ve been writing a lengthy document in preparation for my eventual board certification as a chaplain. One section requires that I give “a fairly complete” history of my life! Pages and pages explaining where I lived, what my family was like, what I studied, and the ways I’ve spent my life so far. I guess if one chooses the vocation of chaplain in one’s 20’s or 30’s, there’s a heckofalot fewer pages for that section.

When I started working on this document earlier this year, I wrestled with how to explain myself. I’ve been on a journey. One that has had plenty of changes and U-turns. One that has always included the needs of my family and friends. One that, for the most part, actually has not been as much about ME as it has been about GOD and ME. And truthfully? It’s been pretty wonderful.

Yeah. There were some sucky years in my 20s. Some hard questions in my 30s. A lot of changes in my 40s. And grace abounding, every step of the way since then.

Unlike many of my peers in chaplaincy, I did not go to a denominational divinity school. I didn’t work in a conventional church setting. I didn’t choose a norm that made sense for many pastors, but was not for me.

At a “dry run” for a certification board, I felt like I had to apologize for the twists and turns in my life… and then I realized it was part of what makes me a great chaplain. I truly DO understand the searching heart, the questioning mind, the mourning spirit. I have sat in a hospital room and been angry at God. I have been fed holy one-liners. I was muzzled by churches which focused on the “jots and tittles” of their theology and ignored the hurting in their midst. I have gone to churches who are “driven” by their “purposes” and found them lacking. I dabbled with Jesus-is-my-happy-place churches. And I’ve wandered into religious settings which were so “open” that intellectual thought fell right out of the bottom.

The bottom line is simply this: I have decided to follow Jesus – not a denomination. And there’s no turning back. I guess I was post-denominational before post-denominational was cool!

A mentor suggested that I go back and re-read Sue Patton Thoele’s “The Courage to be Yourself”. As she put it, “remember why the Holy One led you this way.” What wonderful advice. This sentence leaped out at me:

Uncovering, strengthening, and allowing our authentic self full expression is an ongoing, eternal process, a dance with our soul.

Exactly. My dance is like a polka in 5/4 time. My voice sings fusion jazz over plainsong. My authentic self has lived in Ohio, South Carolina, Florida, New Jersey, Nigeria and Maryland, so I can imitate just about any accent, y’all. My husband and children have enriched and stretched me. Sometimes, yeah, household chores were a drudge. But I tried not to let myself get hung up on owning matching furniture or living in a vacuumed house. I do not feel like I have had to “give up” anything. I have lived, wholeheartedly, where the Holy One has led me. And it’s a joy.

My parents raised us to see what was most important – that we needed to think about our intellectual, emotional, spiritual, psychological, vocational development. They reminded us that it’s not about the stuff. It’s about life. Love. Family. And the Holy One in our midst. Thanks be to God!

I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.” John 15:-9-12 NLT