Now What?

Okay. Since May I have graduated from seminary, celebrated my daughter's third birthday along with our sixth wedding anniversary, along with the completion of Tyler's Ph.D., received the most dramatic and gorgeous gift of all time (thank you Laura James), ministered as a hospital chaplain for ten weeks, attended just part 1 of a ten-year high school reunion, learned that I currently know three people who are going through or are on the brink of divorce, spent considerable time talking to my husband about our dwindling finances, and have transitioned into life as a stay-at-home mom. My brother migrated from the couch in our small apartment (read: the live-in Mexican nanny I will never afford) to London, and my parents have made a bed in their own home for Ronald, a Rwandan studying at a nearby university. Oh, and I died my hair, (re)pierced my nose, gave up eating red meat (except for Dixie Chili) and fell in love with Tim Gunn.

I have had so much to process (like the models of various body piercings on display in the piercing parlor which are still ingrained in my mind--OUCH) and so much I've been wanting to write (I think I've learned how to pray again), but now that I am here, I'm not quite sure what to say.

A few things have not changed.
I still find contemporary church settings (on the whole) theologically and practically unsatisfying and socially exclusive. (How's that for some negativity right out of the gate?)
I still wonder how my call to mother and pastor are going to collide.
And despite my seemingly stronger introversion, I love hearing the stories of people that contribute to their make-up and personhood.
My friends are completely amazing.
Lastly, parenting is still really difficult and even more rewarding.
I'm perpetually tired, but my spleen is normal-sized therefore ruling out mono. (wink).

So, this next season of blogging is going to be fairly narcissistic as I process the above. If you think I'm annoying, you may want to let this cite be. Since I have a tendency to live out of my emotion and experience my relationships accordingly, I'm going to (hopefully and therapeutically) wade through the feelings that have accompanied and even dominated my last few months as a wife,
secret-holder, gossip-er,
traveler, critic, and celebrator.

So, in the spirit of my new love (note the photo), this is about making it work. Life, that is.



I'm going to begin blogging again this week. I need to do some reflective writing as it is a discipline longing to be cultivated more thoroughly. I will be offering a series of reflections on seminary. That's it. Get ready.

(Note to self: Now that I have published this, it must become a reality. No more procrastination.)


What is God?

This is fascinating. I like it. Compare it to Barbara Brown Taylor's idea of God, which is the end of my last post.
This is the stuff that really makes me excited about pastoring! Notice the question is "What is God?" but most of the people answer the question, "Who is God?". Not quite sure what to make of that.

Pluralism at its best!


A Buzz Word about God

Since I am graduating in seven weeks, yes, seven weeks (!!) I have been entertaining off-and-on a resurgence of life questions. What is my denomination? Do I believe in denominations? Why am I not already on a path to ordination? Should I not have an ordination service following the week of the commencement festivities? Where will I pastor? In what context? Shouldn’t God have already worked all this out?! I am twenty-eight, after all!?

Birthing two kids in the middle of my degree has offered me a bit of permission from God (myself, really) to let up on the how’s, why’s, and when’s in place of some more favorable peace. Surprisingly, as life grew busier, the peace became more present. When all of the above questions were hovering around like a poisonous bee at the start of my seminary tenure I thought I was going deaf from the numbing ZZZZZZzzzzzzzzz of where is this education leading? The loud buzzing never really went away, but as life progressed, it did drop down to a low dull so that I could proceed through life. Now that damn bee is back and the buzzing can be heard at decibels so electrifying I wonder when our nosy neighbor is going to call the cops for noises in our apartment louder than city ordinances permit. (Maybe I just have mental illness.)

Anyway, I have initiated several conversations with various people in the ministry and my family with the hopes that their guidance will numb the sound. They are people whom I trust and consider wise on such subjects like what the hell is God doing with my life. Their opinions have slightly varied and their ideas of what would be best for me are even sundry, yet one element of the dialogue has remained consistent amidst all my questions and anxiety (again, mostly self-imposed).

God loves you.

Hurumph. I usually huff a little and slightly audible sigh, feeling perplexed wanting more clarity about the here-and-now and not really wanting to continue such an esoteric line of thought. Then I think, actually God’s love is extremely tangible. That’s when my shoulders relax a smidgen. My breath comes a bit deeper on the next inhale, and I reluctantly remember this profound reality. Yes, God loves God’s people.

God did not bring me this far in life, with a husband, two kids, an (almost) advanced degree, various life experiences across the country, etc. to suddenly say, “ummm…yeah, good job on the grades at seminary, Lauren. You’ve arrived. You are now a Master of the Divine. So….yeah, good luck with all that. See you in a few years at the next resurrection.”

Sometimes I tend to think that’s the case, given what I’ve learned and misunderstood about process theology and practical theology and everything in-between that discusses how God may or may not interact in the world. However, everything inside me screeches (or wants to stand) against that.

Liv loves the book “Moo, Baa, La La La” by Sandra Boynton. (A great children’s poet!)
It goes:

A cow says, “Moo!”
A sheep says, “Baa!”
Three Singing pigs say, “La! La! La!”
“No, no,” you say. “That isn’t right.”
The pig says, “Oink!” all day and night.

Rhinoceroses snort and snuff
Three little dogs go, “ruff, ruff, ruff.”
“Quack,” says the duck and a horse says, “neigh.”
It’s quiet now.
What do you say?

No! No! I say to God, “This isn’t right!” you love us still, to our delight.
(Sorry, I suck are rhyming.) Which is code for, God’s not going to forget about us (i.e. me). Or anyone for that matter, even if you are marginalized and deprived of certain human rights. (Do I even have the right to say that? That’s a whole ‘nother post for a later time. We’ll see if I still believe that after a trip to Cape Town later this year.) even if you are in the midst of foggy transition that rates low on the frontal visibility scale.

So yes, my life seems to be transitioning, the bee is buzzing, and yet “it’s quiet now.” What do I say? The opportunities are many and the possibilities somewhat limitless. What a tremendous, inexplicable, unmitigated gift! Truly. Who am I to query about it being otherwise simply because it’s a bit vague and full of ubiquitous ambiguity right now?

It’s quiet now. What do I say?

Well, I’m a bit too overwhelmed really to say much at all. I speculate that my husband is as well since he’s on a parallel existential track of life-purpose. Good timing we’ve got, eh? At least one of us in the marriage could be a stabilizing force. Oh well. ☺

Instead, I think I will permit the golden Barbara Brown Taylor to once again, use her magical powers of clear and metaphorically enhanced articulation to speak for me.

In response to Terry Gross’ inquisition about her underlying assumptions of the word/image of “God,” as she perceives and believes it to exist, Taylor inspires me with this.

“When I say the word, “God,” I am so aware that I’m using a code word…I suppose my own image, my own idea of God as imperfect and evolving as it is, right now, would be the glue that hooks everything together. The consciousness that moves between all living things…I do not envision a large person…I envision instead some (a slight pause) presence so beyond my being. A presence that both knows the stars by name and knows me by name as well. That is not here to be useful to me, that is not here to give me things as much as to ask me to give myself away for love …but when I say I believe in God, I trust. I trust in the goodness of life, of being. I trust that beyond all reason. I trust that with my life.”

To give myself away for that love…That love which is God’s-self. So then I think, duh. I can do that. What’s so hard about that? And then I’m awake all night wondering about that. Geesh (wink, wink).

(I wrote this on my flight to DC. Expect a follow-up soon, post-trip.)


Maundy Thursday

Well Friends,
It's Maundy Thursday today. The time in our church calendar when we are to receive Jesus' new commandment, (which is what "maundy" means in Latin): "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." ~John 13:34-35.

Maundy Thursday is the practice and acknowledgment of several different elements in the Holy Week Discourse of Scripture. First we see Jesus wash the feet of his disciples. Then they celebrate the Last Supper, after which Jesus, "with a troubled spirit" (John 13:21) identifies Judas as the betrayer, and then the new commandment is offered. Finally, the day comes to a sleepy close in the Garden of Gethsemane.

There is so much dense theology in this day, that a short devotion here cannot even begin to encapsulate all of it. You may want to pause here to read all of John 13. In the short phrase in vs. 2b-3 it's as if we see Jesus finally understand how his ministry/mission will end. "And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God..." I wonder if there was any relief that he didn't have to continue wondering where this was all going, this ushering in life in the new kingdom stuff? Or was he to plagued with worry or suspicion to have any room for positive emotion. At this point, John tells us that Jesus understands how his time on earth will end--in death. How difficult it is when we long for our dearest life partners to understand what ails us. What loneliness Christ must have endured this day.

My final thought is this. Here is Jesus, the penultimate example of God's love for the world getting ready to die, but he must first identify the one among them who will give Jesus up to the Romans. And because that love is so authentic, thick, and natural, the disciples have no idea who it is. Vs. 22, "The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of the disciples--the one whom Jesus loved--was reclining next to him...he asked him, "Lord, who is it?" At which point Jesus dipped the piece of bread into the dish and handed it to Judas. Had it been one of us preparing for death, communing one last time with our closest confidants, knowing that one of them was a traitor only for a few silver coins, how could we not help but to treat him differently, or a bit coldly, to such an extant that at least one of our other more intuitive friends would have surely picked up on the tension? No one here notices, because there is nothing to notice. Jesus treated Judas no differently. Truly, he lived his message. This is just but one more example.

Friends, may we continue to follow in the footsteps of our Savior, bending over to wash one another's feet, sharing the bread and wine of Christ, doing our best to stay awake in the Garden of Gethsemane while offering prayers and support. Let us taste the body and blood of Jesus together today as we remember him and his profound ways of redemption.

John 13

Questions for Reflection:
Do we trust God enough to move into this depth of love, the depths of grace?
Do we trust God with all of our ourselves?
How is our desire to be in holy communion with our neighbors be most manifest?

By Thomas Merton,
I unite myself with those who gather in your name to receive the sacrament of your body and blood. You have made me one with you and one with them by the power of your Holy Spirit. Unworthy, I am called to your table and your hospitality. I shall gratefully sit and eat. Amen.

Peace to you,


Our Place in History

A few weeks ago, Kyle, Tyler, and I attended panel #2 of a two-part series at Claremont School of Theology. The first one was on Church in Society, which I was sad to miss, and the second was on Transforming Society--or something like that; I don't remember exactly. The panel consisted of several liberal theologians from top schools across the country. In a fascinating attempt to keep the audience involved, we jotted down what we believed to be theological predicaments that ought to be at the forefront of theologians' and clergies' minds when it comes to making the world a better place. Then the scholars each volunteered to address a specific one. The list was the usual: economic meltdown, AIDS, poverty, homosexuality, global warming, and on and on. It was actually quite the downer. But to hear the smart people articulate approaches to discuss and even implement change in these areas was inspiring and encouraging. (It reminded me again and again that before I am anything else good, like a philanthropist, volunteer, educator, mother, etc. I am a spiritual being intimately related to my environment, family, neighbors, and Creator. --Perhaps affirming again that I am entering the right profession for me.)

Afterwards, while the three of us were enjoying a flavorful and aromatic hookah at a trendy Mediterranean joint in the Claremont Village, the conversation veered into something along the lines of, what right do those people, those smart people, the "scholars" and theologians have to make any claims about anything, be it a doctrinal truth they uphold, or personal approaches to social issues (like Just Peacemaking Theory), or whatever. Before we can argue one way or the other for anything, don't we need to humbly position ourselves, our minds, and our ideas about the world in a larger context, and that context being all of world history? I don't think the panel would have disagreed with us, but they certainly might argue that there isn't always time for such macro-approaches to conversation, so we need to just assume some things from the get-go. However, we decided that there needs to be time, if only a sentence or two, in which the speaker can acknowledge her seemingly inconsequential ideas and then go on to share them at length. This would make the ideas so much more credible, would it not?

But how un-Enlightenment of us to admit from the start that perhaps we do not have this...this God-thing, this theology-stuff all figured out, especially us scholars. I'm not harping on the academy, just the opposite, in fact. I love it when I begin a new class each quarter and my professor confesses not having all the answers, not always understanding everything that ought to be understood, and therefore not always able to articulate complex ideas about the nature of God in as clear way as necessary. I like these professors way more than the ones who boldly and arrogantly claim, "look kids, here's how it is. now go pastor."

So, all that to say, I opened Latourette's volume-one church history book last week (a mere 1000 page work) and to my delight, the entire first chapter devotes itself to adequately addressing the need for the church to remember the small, small, small fraction of time it has existed and experienced influence on the world when considering the course of world history. Fabulous! I was a bit embarrassed that I had a church history class on Evangelicalism at Yale in Latourette Hall, that this is my third church history class at Fuller, in which I read pieces of Latourette's works in the prior two, and it was only this fourth time that I bothered reading chapter one, and that's just because Dr. Bradley actually assigned it. (THANK YOU!)

Here a bit of what he says.

Christianity is relatively young. Compared with the course of mankind on the earth, it began only a few moments ago...If one accepts the perspective set forth in the NT that in Christ is the secret of God's plan for the entire creation...Christianity becomes relatively even more recent, for the few centuries since the coming of Christ are only an infinitesimal fraction of the time which has elapsed since the earth, not to speak of the vast universe, came into being...Christianity has been present during only a fifth or a sixth of the brief span of civilized mankind.

Again, fabulous! Now, I am can talk, or listen to someone else talk about her doctrine of the trinity. Now I can discuss the significance of Protestant denominations. Now, I can embrace the call to live as a pacifist. Now, when it's all contextualized and we are free to admit that we don't have this Christian-follow-Jesus-live-in-the-kingdom-life-thing all figured out can I begin to start claiming Christianity and following Jesus to that I can live life in the kingdom of God. So please, yes, let's have as many panels as possible that discuss minutia like hte doctrine of the Trinity, just so we can remember that although it's a huge and orthodox concept, really, it's fairly small. (How heretical of me, I know, since our entire faith hangs on the existence of said doctrine.)

I'll stop with this last quote which I find incredibly freeing. Latourette goes on to say,

If Christianity is only near the beginning of its course it may be that the forms which it has developed, whether institutional, intellectual, or ritual are by no means to be final or continuously characteristic.

Praise God! Let's move on people! And thank you to all you pastors, theologians, preachers, and laity out there who are already embodying this for me as I seek my own road of pastoral ministry. This all merges for me in a way that has given me more permission to dream about new church communities outside the institution, denominational constraints, and the pressures that come with ordination. hmmmm....


Week 5 Lenten Thoughts for PMC

Dear Church Friends,

In worship this past Sunday, the following confession was read in unison:

Jesus, we confess you as the Lord of our lives,
the author and perfecter of our faith, our Savior.
Grant us faith to submit to your lordship.
Give us strength to walk in your holy way. Amen.

When we consider these words in tandem with our Scriptural texts this week, perhaps you too, will be stunned by the ways in which God over and again does indeed strengthen us to walk in holy ways.

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51
John 12:20-33

Even though the Israelites failed to keep their original covenant with God (you know, the 10 Commandments as they were given to Moses on Mt. Sinai), through Jeremiah God promised to write a new covenant for them--this time it would be on their hearts, lest they try to wander again. Jer. 31:33, "I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people..."

Then, Psalm 51 serves as a confession from King David after just having committed adultery with Bathsheba. Not wanting to follow the fate of his predecessor, Saul, David robustly and sincerely confesses his sin. He beseeches God in vs. 10, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me."

Then, we get to Jesus in John's Gospel. The Christology is high (Jesus talks with God as Jesus is God), the moment is desperate (Jesus arguably realizes that his impending death cannot be avoided, vs. 27), and God speaks to the people from the heavens. And for what? Perhaps it is in part so Jesus can proclaim in vs. 32, "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself."

Do you hear the refrain as it echoes through not just these passages, but through the entire God-narrative?
We sin.
We confess.
God redeems. God reminds us with the law written on our hearts, as it is manifest in Christ the Lord. God renews our spirit, and we are drawn into God's love through Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit. In this way, we walk a holy path.

Questions for Reflection:
What in our lives needs confessing? What needs to die?
How is Jesus offering new life? How is Jesus lifting us up and drawing us in so that we might walk forward in peace?

God of Grace,
Hear our pleas of regret, just as you heard David so many centuries ago. Bring to our attention our own need for mercy and redemption. We confess that we are a people who claim citizenship in your kingdom, and yet, we quickly reject membership to others who are searching for a home, a safe place in which to proclaim allegiance. As we acknowledge our fellow travelers on the holy path of grace and forgiveness, let us offer one another forgiveness again and again and again, in the name of Christ our Lord, just as you forgive us. Teach us to be faithful practitioners of your message in how we daily live.

May your hand restore us, God.
May the Spirit speak in the depths of our hearts.
May the strength of Jesus fill us to follow God's teaching,

rejoice in God's salvation
proclaim God's forgiveness,
and glorify Christ the Lord. Amen.

Peace be with you,

Week 4 Lenten Thoughts for PMC

Dear PMC,

This week we read about the Israelites in trouble. Venomous snakes are biting God's people, and as they plead for their lives they seek the council of Moses, their trusted leader. God's plan for healing and giving new life to the people was fairly unconventional and (dare I say it) idolatrous. Moses built a giant bronze serpent, wrapped it around a pole and elevated it so that when the people gazed upon it, they were healed and lived. Ummm...yeah. I realize I may be a bit naive in this, but would it not have been easier for God to simply eradicate the snakes from the desert, rather than allowing the people to continually be subject to the poison and also to their own fear?

Then, we read about the amazing Nicodemus, worried and confused about this Messianic figure, Jesus, who is busy shaking things up in the temple. So, fearing for his own safety (I bet it might have felt like a rotten snake bite), Nicodemus approaches Jesus in the middle of the night searching for some council. (Not unlike the Israelites running to Moses with regret.) What does Jesus say? "And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."

The past few days in Darfur, Africa have not been going well, to say the least, since President Beshir has mandated the evacuation of most international aid groups. More war refugees are flocking to the camps only to face ongoing life-and-death issues, like a lack of water and dramatically overcrowded shelters. This is a fairly macro problem in the world that God needs to heal. And so perhaps it's a bit unfair of me to even mention it; but still, it is a giant snake bite that ought to cause all of us pain. On a more personal level, each of us may be challenged to keep trusting in God this week of Lent because we have our own snake bites that either aren't healing or may even be sucking the very life out of us--the wound is just too deep and too painful, and we're tired of looking up at the bronze image (i.e. Jesus) hoping for the restoration we so badly desire, only to see fifty more snakes when we return to work the next day.

God, can't you just get rid of the snakes?

"Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." John 3:17

Again, what an unconventional way for God to stop the pain and restore us to new life. Evil is not eradicated (not yet anyway), our hurts are still real, the snakes still slither about--but so, too, our hope may shine forth. The incarnation is not about judgment or a cessation of immediate trauma (although perhaps it can be). Jesus coming to earth is about new life. Jesus teaches us a new way of living. Jesus grants us permission to hope for a new reality, and Jesus modeled that reality for us. The bronze serpent will be raised up on a cross in just a few weeks so that we might be restored to life in the kingdom of God.

Numbers 21:4-9
John 3:14-21

Questions for Reflection:
What snake bites our festering in our lives?
Do we trust God with our pain?
Do we believe that God can transform our pain, no matter how unconventional the method may be?

We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness:
the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives.
Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people,
Our anger at our own frustration and our envy of those more furtunate than ourselves,
Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our dishonesty in daily life and work,
Our negligence in prayer and worship and our failure to commend the faith that is in us.

Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done:
for our blindness to human need and suffering and our indifference to injustice and cruelty,
For all false judgments,
For uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors and
For our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ.
For our waste and pollution of your creation and our lack of concern for those who come after us,

Restore us, and let your anger depart from us.
Accomplish in us the work of your redemption.

By raising high your bronze serpent, Christ on the cross, encourage us to gaze upon him and taste and see and touch and know and experience healing--life anew, in the kingdom of God. May be we feel the rub of your healing salve on our tender bites. We confess all of this, expecting your mercy to soothe the sore spots.

Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.

May you sense God in new ways this week,
Lauren Mayfield
Pastoral Intern

~Part of the prayer is from Rob Bell.

Week 3 Lenten Thoughts for PMC

Dear Pasadena Mennonite Church (and her constituents),

Our Lenten theme of trusting God came to a head for us in worship yesterday when Drew creatively and humorously compared Jesus driving out the money changers in the temple to a day at the LA County Fair. It was a great parallel that ended with us demanding Jesus to overturn the tables of the carnival games; you know, the ones that are rigged to rob us of all our money yet tempt us to empty our wallets when we still haven't managed to toss the ring onto the corresponding pin. I find something oddly comforting when it comes to placing my trust in a God who displays such passionate fits of temper when God's children are victims of a scam--be it financial, social, relational, environmental, or whatever.

I think it's no coincidence either that the author of John's Gospel places this story of temple chaos in the second chapter, very early in his Jesus narrative. Scholars speculate that perhaps this is so, because throughout the book of John we see a Jesus who is very divine, very in touch with God the Father, and very confident of his identity in relation to this Godhead. In other words, throughout John's gospel, Jesus most surely is Christ the Lord, the Son of God. So, it is not a surprise when Jesus angrily demonstrates that God's glory is not present in the temple scams, but instead, God's presence is powerfully manifest in the person of Christ. John wants to make that clear from the get-go.

We twenty-first century followers must be careful with such readings, however, not to turn an anti-Semitic ear to Biblical texts like this one. John was a Jew and therefore able to participate in this "family fight," so to speak. It's sort of like how I'm the only person who was aloud to call my little brother a dork when we were young kids. The second my best friend joined in the taunting, she was no longer permitted to say such untruths! Therefore, we do not have such liberal freedom to criticize the Law or Temple practices. This is why I'm so glad our other text this week is Psalm 19, "The law of the Lord is perfect...the decrees are sure...the commandments clear...the ordinance are true..." Instead, this week of Lent, by way of learning from Jesus' vehemence toward injustice, let us turn our attention to other unjust practices that dramatically need to be overturned in the name of Christ the Lord. Not too much of a difficult exercise given the state of our current American economy, much less the global one as well.

Psalm 19
John 2:13-22

Question for Reflection:
What or whom do we long for?
Who in our societies today are victims of a good scam?
Are we over-committed to the wisdom of financial gurus?
What must we sacrifice this week in order to have more time for the practice of justice?

Almighty God,
Help us keep our eyes on you.
Keep us clear from hidden faults and innocent of transgression.

Jesus is the visible manifestation of your holiness.
You are beauty,
forgiveness, and

Therefore, let our lives be of sound discipleship as we seek you by following the path of Jesus.
Prepare us to celebrate the mysteries of Easter,
as the feast of the world's redemption comes closer and closer.

In the meantime,
Let the words of our mouths
and the meditations of our hearts
be acceptable to you, O Lord,
our rock and
our redeemer.

Working to stay the course with you,

P.S. I gave up fastfood for Lent. (ha.) Each time I have found myself craving an In-n-Out salted fry dipped in a swirly chocolate shake, I am glad to remember that Easter is on its way. Albeit, it's sort of an unconventional way to approach the expectation of Christ's resurrection, but the simple sacrifice gets my mind moving in a direction of thoughtfulness. How are your Lenten sacrifices going? Anyone else craving a good metaphorical cheeseburger yet? It won't be too much longer now...


Prophetic Words

Tomorrow is our church staff meeting, and I have to lead a discussion on prophetic preahing. Each time we meet we close with a ten minute ditty or so on a different topic for our own edification and learning. I'm going to share about when I was in James Forbes' preaching class at Yale. At the time, we was still the pastor of Riverside Church. To say that the class was wholly transformative is still an understatement. My text for the class was James 4:4-10 and the assignment was to preach a text that would usher in the next American Great (Religious) Awakening. Forbes gave us a masterful sample sermon one class session in which he relied on Ezekiel redressing the skeletons of dry bones way down in the valley to describe what it will be like when we awaken from our religious slumber here in America. It was five years ago now, and I still remember his command of the room like it was yesterday. I still feel the pulse of his energy--fabulous!

This has me thinking about lots of things. First, I don't think that we are necessarily in need of a huge revival as they were led by George Whitefield, Charles Finney, and Jonathan Edwards back in the day. And not that that was what Forbes was advising, but there still seemed to be somewhat of an "us vs. them" mentality in the class. Us Christians, us social do-good-ers, us seminarians vs. you ???? losers who need religious help ???. Anyway, I approached my sermon text with this framework and automatically set myself for some intense criticism without even realizing. "Friendship with the world is enmity with God." --that's part of the James pericope. ha. Well, I took it and ran with it...ran it right into the gound rather than into the hearts of all my listeners.

Granted some of my classmates were a bit snobby--we were at Yale after all, and a few of them were just so dang liberal they didn't even know what hit them (or the books of the NT in order for that matter-the horror!), while the others just obligingly sat there as I embaressed myself for a full 15 minutes thinking I was going to be the best damn prophet they'd ever witnessed (aside from our professor of course!).

One guy on the class response sheet handed it in blank except for a brief fragment at the bottom reading, "I don't believe in anything you said." WOW! How's that for sharing the love of Christ through some peer-to-peer constructive criticism?! I can honestly laugh at it in my reflections now, but at the time, I was pissed beyond words. Not hurt or intimidated, just stark raving mad. Who did he think he was---plus he sucked at his delivary. But lest I needlessly get lost on that tangent, I'll get back to my point-I do have one here. The class had been shocked that I would make such bold claims as I did in that sermon. And to be honest, when I reread it now I am a bit surprised by my doctrinal confidence as well; I'm no where near that person today. Yet, on the other hand I still find the sermon inspiring on a certain level.

Yet, leave it to the master. After I finished preaching, Dr. Forbes had me reread the scripture passage for the class. Instead of approaching it with a vengeful or dramatic disdain, he had me read it with remorse and longing. You could have heard a pin drop when I finished reading it the second time. Ahh....it was more safe for them to listen at that point. I started to get it. On the other hand, as I near the end of my time in evangelical Fuller world, often a place where people are not bashful about dropping a judgment bomb or critique from God, I find myself more in the middle. I don't want to sugar coat harsh teachings from the Gospel to spare feelings, but I also don't want to alienate people needlessly. It's a very, very fine line.

Week 2 Lenten Thoughts for PMC

Dear Friends,

Through God, with God, and because of God life comes from barrenness! And through the trial of acknowledging our empty wombs, i.e. our propensities to neglect God, naturally doubt might engulf us at times. Likewise, doubting the mysteries of faith might even accompany our longings to find God as well. But take heart, for just as Joe reminded us that all great s/heroes of the faith like Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah (even the others honored in Hebrews 11!) battled with seasons of intense questions and disbelief, we are not alone in our wandering and seeking. One of my favorite homiletical heroes is Fred Craddock. During Lent he says, "This walk to Jerusalem is becoming more like a climb. But the hills do give me better perspective."

Ahh, so much seems to hinge on our perspective, does it not? Our perspectives on life, on barrenness, on doubt, or on the trials that come from seeking God and living as if we are being redeemed. Does life only seem like a climb, not to Palm Sunday, but to the wilderness--the place we saw Jesus last week and Abraham this week? Take a minute to consider your own perspective on where God might be calling you to journey. Are you on the way up or stuck in a valley?

I encourage you to strap on tightly your hiking boots, grab a walking stick if need be, and venture further up those peaks of discipleship and faith. For just as Craddock climbs onward, may we join him and together understand how the perspective at the summit is full of grace and peace. The journey of Lent provides new routes on which we can accept and embrace God's presence. For God is with you, navigating this journey.

We know that Jesus recited part of Psalm 22 while he was on the cross. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Did you know that the Psalm ends triumphantly? Vs 26-27, "The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord..." How wonderful to think that perhaps Jesus may have recited the Psalm in its entirety. And if not, today we can recite all of it together. What a perspective from the top of the hill!

Genesis 17:1-7
Psalm 22

Questions for Reflection:
Do we dare to journey into the wilderness with God? Do we believe that God is with us in the unknowing wilderness or on the hills that we must climb to know God more?

Work your grace in us, O God, that we, too, may come to see that the hills offer a more complete perspective.
Do not forsake us.
Though we may feel like worms and not human, mocked or exhausted,
Deliver us.
Do not be far from us.
Even though we walk a barren path, you give us life.
Therefore our congregation comes to you with praise.
To, you, O God, be glory and honor forever.

Peace from a fellow wanderer on the Lenten path,

Week 1 Lenten Thoughts for PMC

Dear Church Friends,
This past week and yesterday in worship, together we ushered in a new season in our church calender, Lent. Lent is a time of longing, anticipation, and expectation as we reflect on what we have done, or left undone, in the past year. Additionally, it is a time to put aside something of significance, to make room for the joyful hope that we expect will come on Easter through the resurrection.

So, just as the children in primary worship yesterday buried the word, "hallelujah," I invite you to metaphorically join in the burial ceremony. As we surrender this word, this proclamation and celebration, let us make way in the silence that follows in our hearts and in our worship for contemplation. Ash Wednesday reminded us that we are all dust and to dust we will return. This can seem a harsh reality. Yet, last Wednesday, the ashes were not marked on us in a smeary abstract image, but in the shape of a cross. It is a symbol that reminds us that even though we will all one day die, in the meantime we are to live in Christ, whose death transforms our own demise! Therefore, we need not fear the burial of "hallelujah," but instead we can embrace it with eagerness as we wait in faithfulness for the opportunity to shout it again.

Accordingly, during worship yesterday we learned that our true salvation, as a world, as a nation, as a people and especially as a church, comes not by way of our newly elected President or by any other worldly, empire means, but through the power of Jesus. Amen?! Yet, what a challenge this lays before us. The challenge to live with faith and trust in a Messiah who leads us into the wilderness. Yet, when we realize that God has already provided for our journey, we are then able to take the initiative to recognize God's action and follow Christ more fully. Jesus is on the move! --in a myriad of ways. Let us together, as a church, this Lenten season learn to better trust these movements so that we can join in and experience the joy of life in the kingdom of God.

Psalm 25
Mark 1:9-15

Questions for Reflection:
What tempts us? When are we in the wilderness?
How do we want to control our own destiny?

Faithful God, trusting in you,
we begin
the forty days of conversion and penance.
Give us strength for Christian discipline,
that we may renounce evil
and be decisive in doing good.

May integrity and uprightness preserve us,
for we wait for you.

We ask this through Jesus Christ, Amen.

Blessings to you this week,

P.S. Henri Nouwen offers a great resource, "Show Me the Way: Readings for Each Day of Lent." I borrowed part of the prayer from him. The latter part is from Psalm 25.


I read these two thoughts everyday right now and will continue to do so until I feel like the ambiguity of our transition quiets itself.

My Lord God I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Not do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that my desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me on the right road though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always,
thought I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

~Thomas Merton

Admittedly, it's a bit dramatic and not quite relevant since we are transitioning (hopefully) to something new and wonderful and adventurous, hopefully not a perilous experience. But there is nothing like turning to the saints who go before you for a little spiritual aide, eh?

We want life to have meaning, we want fulfillment, healing and even ecstasy,
but the human paradox is that we find these things by starting where we are
not where we wish we were...

And because we are human, it is in the realm of the daily and the mundane that we must find our way to God.

In our life of faith, then, as well as in our most intimate relationships with other people,
our task is to transform the high romance of conversion,
the fervor of religious call, into daily commitment.

~Kathleen Norris, sent to me by a dear friend early last week.



tuesday after the first week in Lent

Henri Nouwen's prayer for today:

Why, O Lord, is it so hard for me
to keep my heart directed toward you?
Why does my mind wander off in so many directions,
and why does my heart desire 
the things that lead me astray?

Let me sense your presence in the midst of my turmoil.
Take my tired body,
my confused mind,
and my restless soul into your arms
and give me rest, simple quiet rest.

I find this meditation incredibly timely for many reasons. The ambiguity of hunting and hoping for a job feels relentless today. Dare we hope for a new posting on the SBL website, only to fall victim to the bad economy or lack of experience one more time? Tyler is better at handling this than I am. School seems to be bearing down on me right now since it's the end of the quarter; I am behind in my readings, turning in a paper late today, while scrambling to get another one written by Thursday, while hosting looming mental sites of the hebrew final and closing philosophy paper for the next week. ack

And well, more germane to the prayer, it's Lent. I am working to be disciplined in my discipleship these 40 days. I can do anything for forty days, right? I mean, that's how I get through each quarter at school, by solemnly chanting, "You can do anything for ten weeks...what's ten weeks in the course of eternity...merely a blip on the map of time..." At least that's part of my internal mantra which helps me to remain calm and collected.  So back to my discipline, lest this wandering blog entry shows too much of my wandering mind during prayer.

I gave up fastfood for Lent. I know, I know, how cliche to surrender sweets, alcohol, or other caloric past-times that are not good for us in the first place. But I don't think you understand (I am admitting this honestly and sheepishly-ha), I love cheeseburgers. My family does not hesitate in joking about my "meat tooth." I love salty, crisp french fries on the paper wrapper beside my cheeseburger, and mostly, I love dipping all of it in a bright, swirly mound of sugary, processed ketchup. yum! (I could totally go for a #2 with a diet coke like no other right now.) But I need to turn aside from the tempting drive-through windows and navigate my car, (er, I mean, my heart and mind) to more wholesome food. So, I am naturally turning to Henri Nouwen for steering help. 

Today he told me to be still and listen, so that my prayer life isn't nearly as monolithic or one-sided as usual. hmmmm...interesting, he's assuming I have an active prayer life. (Step 1: start praying again.) Thus, step 2: start praying through stillness and prayer. 

huh, not really all that divine or euphoric...or is it? I'm going to try it. Just for ten minutes a day in the beginning (about the time it takes if there is a long line at In-N-Out). And I will report back to let you know if what he predicts actually comes true--I find myself more and more 'hungry' for the voice of God amidst the craziness of life right now. Here's hoping, oh crap, I mean praying!



So many people I know right now, most of whom I'm related to, are wading through murky waters of disillusionment with institutionalized church. And while I welcome this dialogue, even thrive on the potential that such disenchantment raises, I can't help but internally get a little panic-y and rant, "No! No! Don't be done with it! Don't give up." But then those who are ecclesially frustrated begin to relay a plethora of anecdotes that have taken place in the confines of the local church over years of service and ministry. Eventually the ignorance, frustration, and poor theology that is espoused in the stories only leaves me feeling a bit nauseated and fat, i.o.w., heavy hearted and sad right along with them. Dang! Why is that?! 

On a different, yet still related note, I listened to this fantastic podcast yesterday with my ole NPR buddy Krista interviewing a mother-turned-rabbi who was advising parents about the ways of inculcating spirituality in the life of their children. We are born with an innate awareness of a spirituality or mysticism that extends beyond ourselves and is part of the greater cosmos, the rabbi reports, that eventually prompts all/most young children to begin asking questions of their origin, along with reasons for pain and injustice in the world, tempered with more specific queries like 'who is God' and 'why should I believe in God.' (Not that any of that information is really all that new, just that I loved her response.) The rabbi says the point is not so much about answering our children's questions correctly, so much as it is about cultivating a vocabulary that promotes future dialogue about things spiritual and mystical. In a similar vain, I tend to agree with her when she espouses ways in which spirituality and a spiritual language is best developed and enhanced--not so much through our words or doctrine, but through our acts. (duh!) 

Even today in my philosophy class, we were discussing speech-act theory and how postmodern philosophers finally (almost) agree that language is performative. We don't know what a word means unless we understand the act that accompanies it. So, when I want to teach my children that injustice in the world is a problem, I hope that less then hearing me drone on ad infinitum about it, they will see me treating the homeless person with dignity, or we can together mourn over the loss of one of God's creatures when we see it on the side of the road, etc. 

And back to my initial point, is this one of the reasons so many of you are done with church in the modern sense of the word? Instead of having all of your doctrine well-articulated in a rational, uniform thought pattern (with words that have lost meanings), and instead of obeying the denominational "rules" about how one ought to conduct oneself in a given worship service or prayer meeting (with actions that are void of relevance), and instead of hounding members about their time availability and whether or not they are going to tithe 10%, why do our churches not embrace more radically the mystical elements of life with God? Why do we not less about indubitable faith propositions and more about intense questions of divine immanence and intervention, or how to live as community in American suburbia, and the list goes on? I, too, am tired of churches getting lost in the translation of what it means to be church. 

And as I debate denominational affiliation these days (more to come on that later), I find myself caught in the --dare I use the word 'trap'-- of going through the motions myself, of doing church the same old way. And for what, just to call myself "ordained," or is it because ordained pastoral ministry really is an authentic representation of church, i.e. family of God representing Christ to the world? hmmm. (Sorry if this sounds too cynical; I hope my message isn't hidden too far beneath it. I'm mostly just wondering.)

Immanent God, Intervening God: A Semantic Matter or Not?

I have been so hands-off of this topic for most of my seminary career; funny how it comes up in what is one of my last three classes before graduation this June--Anglo-American Postmodern Philosophy. (and yes! you read that correctly...I'm graduating in a few months!!) How does God speak? Does God speak? Is God a being who intervenes and if so, for what purposes? Or is our universe a modern, enlightened, rational, well-oiled machine that has been set in motion by a great Creator in the beginning and only left to its own workings and happenings so many billions of years later, i.e. today? 

I sort of imagine that last concept like one of those old fashioned toy tops where a kid yanks a string with force to send the top whirling across the table on its own volition and where it stops, nobody knows...not even God. The past few months, or years maybe, I have been moving progressively left in most of my theological suppositions. The ways in which I relate to God are more and more "liberal" as I wean myself off of tidy evangelism for a more hodgepodge of practical understandings of discipleship. But the movement of God in the world is one bit that I want to keep dusting off over and over so as to keep it pristine and easy.  

Thanks to liberals like Schleiermacher, I'm all about God being present in the Eucharist insofar as it is a gathering of God's children, as we all are created in God's image and  bearers of the Holy Spirit. I'm fine stopping there on this trajectory. A few stops too early on the theological tracks for my conservative brothers and sisters. What is more, I tend to veer away from the idea that God's miracles come to us in trite manifestations for our own edification. (I'm going to leave that vague for now as well.) Okay, so maybe it isn't as squeaky clean as I thought. In this way, God's presence traces back to the community for me. 

On the other hand (grab your dust cloth now), I cannot forsake the idea of a God who intervenes in our lives for the benefits of others who have yet to experience life in the kingdom of God. Isn't that what the incarnation was all about--God coming down so that we might have love | joy | peace? (There is a great Mennonite chorus we sing about this.)  I want to think that we are not on a conveyor belt like at the Toyota plant where everything is set in motion and cars are built whether or not the president of the company is present. God is not our CEO, and I am not an employee in the modern company pushing my way forward to grab a seat at the conference table in order to get a word in edgewise with the director. I regret that our modern liberalism has, in effect, worked us out of our own need for a present, immanent, redeeming God who still participates in the manifestations of what it means to be human and alive. Nor do I see God, however, as this little angel on my right shoulder arranging life so that my every want will be supplied. How consumerist is that?

So I had to write a brief reflection paper the other day on how this affects my prayer life. Do I pray for cures from disease? Cessation to genocide? Quick fixes and instant satisfaction? Isn't this a rebuttal against the ideas of free will and systemic evil? If God is going to immediately interrupt the transmission of AIDS, how does this not limit our response to God? (And won't skeptics like the Brites and other atheists ascribe it to modern science anyway?) Instead, would it not be more theologically astute/correct to ask for God to give grace and presence and peace to those suffering with AIDS while also asking for people who have resources to educate others about the prevention of AIDS to respond to a "call" to the need for this education? Like joining the Peace Corps?! Instead of praying for California voters to wake up and make gay rights legal over night, is it not more appropriate to ask God to interact in ways that awaken people to the need for more protests, education, and interaction with the issue so they can see up close and personal the bigotry that our current legal system promotes? I think the difference that I am trying to articulate is this:

Rather than God intervening in our world from the high heavens above (whatever the hell that means), God immanently exists from within all of us and from within all situations. In this way, (go ahead and lambaste me all you scientists) God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, calls us, provokes us, and leads us to ministerially (is that a word) respond and be present in the world in a way that benefits the good of the whole--not just ourselves (a.k.a. poor, pitiful, me--perhaps a syndrome to which only rich westerners are subject). Anyway, this makes sense for me right now. God gets to be bigger, albeit a bit more elusive, yet at the same time, still mystically present in the mundane of life while directing the whole of the cosmos for the blessing of all humankind. It is allowing me to pray on a personal level again because I do not have to be overly consumed with seeking the results of my prayers as they only pertain to me or my family or my situation in life. I can pray for my kids to get over their colds now so that they can be a blessing to the world in the ways that God created them to be, and free from the ways in which their colds were hindering this. In this way, it's not just about them leaving snot all over the cuff of their shirt and me being grossed out by it and wanting the laundry pile to stop being so insurmountable. I think God is more concerned with things other than my laundry, but I want to believe that God is totally concerned with whether or not my children are fully engaging in the world around them. 

Is this ridiculous? Am I just hanging on to this idea of God in the world so I can sleep better at night? Am I working too hard to keep the belief dust-free? Or do I need to let go of it completely like all those other liberals out there whom I so respect? Can someone please pass the Pledge? I need to get this idea dusted off.