The journey of wearing orange….

I’m wearing an orange dress today. My friend, who’s an elementary school teacher, reminded me yesterday that today is #Unity day, when we take a stand against bullying. As a former introverted, pale, freckle-y, and rather nerdy teenager who, as an adult, is still quite introverted, pale, freckle-y, and nerdy…this issue is close to my heart. And I’m a mom now. And my heart hurts when I think of how cruel this world can be sometimes.

So there I was wearing my orange dress at our local gas station putting fuel in the tank, when I noticed something unusual on the gas pump. It was a sticker with an incredibly unflattering (to say the least) picture of President Biden, mouth gaping open and finger pointing, with the words “I did that” underneath. Whoever put the sticker there had placed the finger-point strategically close to where the gas price is displayed digitally in red. Ah. I got the message.

It’s been a hard day for me emotionally already and seeing that sticker just tipped me right over the edge. The next thing I knew, I had scraped the sticker off and dumped the shreds of it in the nearby trash can. It took me three tries, but it’s gone. (Until the sticker fairy returns.)

But now, let’s calm ourselves. This reflection of mine honestly has nothing to do with my feelings about this President. Or any U.S. President past or future. What it does have to do with is kindness and love. And stopping bullying. And an awareness that hate is like a cancer eating away at us as a society. Can we learn to disagree without mockery and ridicule? Can we dislike a stance or policy or idea without seeking to destroy the person who shares it? Can we teach our children to respect differences, protect the vulnerable, and—very simply put—be kind?

So I wear my orange today. With hope. With determination. With love. I invite you to join me. And I might just wear something else orange tomorrow.

The journey of kindness (with an Irish blessing). . . .

Yesterday, I was driving down one of the main roads in my town, and I noticed that the car in front of me looked . . . different. As I moved closer and squinted my eyes, I saw that there was a hand-written message scrawled with white marker across the back windshield. It was a pretty angry message. And I didn’t need to stop the driver and talk in person to realize that they were greatly displeased with certain issues in our country and in the world. Just by reading that windshield, I felt as if the driver were shouting–at me, at others–and shaking a fist at the sky. So much anger. Kindness, grace, peace, and love were certainly not there.

And then, just a few days ago, I experienced some church-folk who seemed to forget Christ’s call to love and serve others. Kindness, grace, peace, and love were severely lacking in their words and behaviors. So much anger there, too.

I could easily follow these two recent experiences to a place of despair at the “state of our world today,” but–surprisingly–another kind of experience came to my mind this morning. And it’s keeping me going. It’s a story that happened this one time in Ireland. . . .

A few years ago, my husband and I were traveling in Ireland with another couple of friends who were celebrating their wedding anniversary, like we were. We had started our adventure in Dublin, in the east, traveled across the country to Galway in the west, and were making our way back around to Limerick near the center of Ireland. We stopped for lunch at a pub as we visited Limerick that day. And as we listened to the fiddles playing and the dancers tapping, we found a high-top table outdoors near the river. We and our friends were sitting there, chatting and laughing, recalling fun events from earlier in our vacation, when a most interesting individual appeared near our table. He had long, rather dirty-looking hair. A scruffy beard. An old Led Zeppelin t-shirt with stains on it. An unusual twitch in his eyes. A mysterious sniffle. But he was just as friendly as he could be! He started conversing with us, warmly and casually as if we were old buddies of his. He asked us how we were enjoying Ireland, about the sights we’d already seen. Made recommendations. Bantered. We smiled and engaged his conversation. But I have to admit those smiles were tense. And as he wandered away after a little while, you could feel the tension release from our group of friends. We laughed nervously and admitted that we all had had an eye on our friends’ expensive digital camera they had placed on the table top. Because our mysterious visitor just looked like the kind of person who might steal expensive items from unsuspecting tourists. 

            We returned to our lunches and our previous conversation, when—all of a sudden—our friend appeared again! He chatted some more, and then said the most outlandish thing. “I’d like to give you a blessing. A blessing for your travels. A blessing in my language.” And he fumbled about in his pants pocket looking for something to write on and something to write with. He pulled out an old, dirty envelope with frayed edges. “Pension envelope,” he said sheepishly. And he found a pencil. Then he wandered away to an empty table to write. Meanwhile, I was skeptical. “A blessing in your language!” I thought. “Even with your Irish accent, you’re speaking English just like we are.” I might have gripped my purse straps a little tighter as I watched him.

            When he returned to our table, he proudly put the frayed piece of paper down in front of us. He had sketched a shamrock and these words in Irish Gaelic: “Go n-éirí an bóthar leat.” “May the road rise to meet you,” he declared warmly. And all of a sudden I felt so stupid and so ashamed. “May the road rise to meet you.” The traditional Irish blessing that I know from so many choral anthems I’d performed in the past. And, of course, Irish Gaelic was his language. How foolish, how arrogant of me to forget that more than English was spoken here. 

            Once he shared his blessing with us, he wandered away again. And we sat in shock. “That was awesome,” one of our friends whispered. And my husband was inspired and said, “Let’s ask him if we could get him some food or something to drink . . . something.” And the guys called him over yet again and made our offer of a refreshment. But our unusual new friend simply smiled at us and shook his head graciously. “No. . . . No thanks. It costs nothing to be nice.” And he wandered away from us for the very last time. . . . 

            “It costs nothing to be nice.” That phrase has stuck with me for years now. We all know there’s so much anger and ugliness and sheer hatred in our world. We feel it around us. We feel it within us. It’s awful, overwhelming, exhausting. But there is kindness. Kindness is something we can choose. And the “cost” of kindness is totally worth it. 

            My challenge to myself today is to choose kindness and do kindness. Will you join with me, wherever you are? 

The journey of walking down aisles carrying lighters….

(This is my latest article for Columns from Georgetown Presbyterian Church…. I love how simple actions we do on a regular basis can have meanings more profound than we realize!)

With the arrival of fall, I often think of how different the light looks this time of year. There’s a certain golden glow to the sunshine and a slant to the way the light falls on the earth. It makes me feel excited about the changing of the season, but also comfortable and cozy. It’s amazing to experience the power of light, to feel its effects.

Over the past several months, we’ve been enriched with the return of our acolyte ministry at GPC. On Sunday mornings, these children and youth don a white liturgical robe and, during the first hymn, bring the “light” up the aisle to the two candles on the communion table. At the end of worship, during the last hymn, they carry the light back down the aisle and out of the sanctuary. Their work of bringing the light in and carrying it back out is more than an elegant-looking movement to grace our times of worship. It’s beautifully symbolic of the Light of the World, Jesus, coming into our worship gathering—and into our world—to be with us and, then, calling us to go back out into the world and be the light for others. A powerful image! 

Another powerful image is the fact that we have two candles that are lit on our communion table. In the earlier years of the Church, these candles would have been present to help the priest or pastor see to read the liturgy! Over time, though, people also began to associate the two candles with the dual nature of Jesus—mysteriously and at the same time, human and divine.

Our acolytes, then, help us to experience the Gospel message in action. They testify every Sunday that Jesus, fully human and fully divine, is the Light of the World and calls us to follow him into our world—a place of beauty and mess, light and shadow, pain and joy. Let’s remember to watch our acolytes as they minister next Sunday morning. May our eyes follow the movement of the flame. May we be comforted by the light’s presence. And may we go with the Light as we return to the world.

The journey of my job today. . . .

She squinted her eyes and scrunched her nose and then sat in what felt, to me, like eternal silence. I could tell that she couldn’t hear me. So I dialed up my speaking volume and said with great enunciation, “So how are you feeling today, Miss Peggy?” “Not so good, not so good,” she hollered back at me. But she said it with a smile, so I knew that the situation wasn’t too dire at the moment. “What’s wrong? What doesn’t feel good?” I bellowed, using what little bit I know from my voice teacher husband about using my diaphragm muscles to get the sound out. “Oh, nothing much,” she admitted. “Just feeling lazy today.” “Lazy is okay!” I reassured her. Then, I pointed to the vase of brilliantly colored flowers the church had sent for her. They were velvety red roses with indigo blue, bell-shaped blossoms along slender stalks. I knew that this could at least be a talking point with Miss Peggy. “Beautiful, beautiful,” she responded. And then she began to leaf through the worship bulletin I had brought her from the previous Sunday. She mumbled, “I just love getting these. . . .”

And this is how it goes. This is what we do. This is, in fact, part of what I do in pastoral care. Pastoral care feels like one of the oddest “jobs.” I’m learning more and more each day how to do it–through experiences that are simply awkward as h*#!, through the gentle guidance of pastors much wiser than I, and through trying and failing and trying again. I’m learning that it truly is the little things that matter, that show love and care. Birthdays, anniversaries, surgeries, graduations, defeats, triumphs, fears, joys. It’s life. And it’s glimpses of God’s love and grace that we find–or that find us–in this life.

I’m delving into this “job” today. How are things with your calling?

The journey of Good Friday….

Good Friday homily

April 2, 2021

We believe—and we say we believe—that Jesus is God’s Word made flesh. We believe that he was truly and fully God, while being truly and fully human. This is a great mystery. Nothing we can prove. Something that could make our brains ache if we think about it too hard, too deeply. It’s beyond us human creatures. 

We celebrate Jesus’ divinity and humanity at Christmastime, when our hearts swell with joy. When we sing along with the angels. When everything feels magical and fresh and new. When we gaze down at the precious baby, whom we believe to be God in the very flesh. 

But on Good Friday, we gaze on Jesus, and we see the full weight of humanity bearing down on our God-in-the-flesh. He feels incredible physical pain and suffering. He feels incredible emotional pain and suffering. He knows what abandonment feels like. He knows what injustice feels like. He knows what hopelessness feels like. He knows what fear and sadness feel like. For any time any of us humans may have cried out in the last year, “I can’t breathe!”—whether from a deadly virus or from cruel injustice or from the weight of anxiety—Jesus cries out, too. For any time any of us have suffered violence, Jesus bears the marks of violence on his body. For any time any of us have felt broken, alienated, mistreated, disillusioned, terrified—Jesus’ heart aches along with ours. 

We humans have great hope in the promise of Easter—that pain and darkness and death are not the end of the story. They do not have the final word. But today is not Easter. It’s still Friday. And Friday is still part of our journey. So we sit in silence, holding the pain.

Yet, there is still a goodness in Good Friday. Our comfort today is that we have a God who knows what it’s like to be fully human. Who knows our pain and chose our pain. We have a God who truly is with us. Amen.

The journey of Welcome

Also, on St. Patrick’s Day, as I found ways to celebrate and bring joy to my precious little daughter of Irish heritage and spend time with my beloved family, I later discovered that eight people—six of whom were women of Asian descent—were killed in Atlanta. . . . What else can we say? Have we not said it already? Enough with the hatred and violence against Asian people. Enough with the hatred and violence against women. Enough with the hatred and violence against Black people. Enough with the hatred and violence against any person of color. Enough with the hatred and violence against the LGBTQ+ community. Enough with the hatred and violence against ____________. Enough with the hatred and violence. Enough, enough, enough. 

In a recent class I was teaching at church, I remember saying something to the effect that when the pain of this world is bigger than we can handle or feel like we have any power to effect . . . We can still do something. Even a little something. And do it with determination and Love. 

So, last night, my little girl and I read a book that was an impulse buy from her recent preschool book fair. I just happened to see it before clicking “proceed to checkout.” It’s All are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman. It’s a picture of what this world should be and could be, through the eyes of sweet schoolchildren. My little girl loves this story and the beautiful, colorful diversity that unfolds before her eyes. Her heart is open and loving and pure. May we be more like her—more like children with welcoming hearts. 

We’re reading this book again tonight. 

A journey of green and gold glitter. . . .

So apparently, on St. Patrick’s Day, preschoolers get really excited about leprechauns secretly visiting us and making mischief for us. (As a mom of two young ones, I truly am learning something new every day!) Our little girl went to school this morning with a green striped dress, white frilly socks (a la Irish lace), and my green glitter hairband in her gingery brown curls. I, of course, am wearing green myself as a celebration of the whatever percentage of Irish that ancestry.com discovered in my genes. 

And, right around lunch-time, I had the sudden pressing need to stop by our local drugstore and buy St. Patrick’s Day goodies to surprise Little One when she returned from school. I found shamrock socks, glitter shamrock and rainbow stickers, and a few other creative activities to keep her preoccupied and delighted while Mommy and Daddy finish their respective workdays. And then I saw friends posting pictures of leprechaun “footprints” around their homes—much like the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus making a visit and leaving surprises. So here I sit with the sides of my hands covered in dried, bright green paint from making tiny faux footprints on paper cut-outs strewn around my office floor. And there was gold glitter, too. And I love it. Because in creating joy for her, I also found great joy myself. 

So how did this desire to be so festive all of a sudden emerge?

Because I’ve been preparing to teach a class this evening at church on a “Lenten journey through Narnia,” and tonight’s topic is “Living with What We’ve Been Given” . . . or contentment.  And there’s a question from the study guide about “Do today’s children get too many toys or too much amusement?” The answer could be Yes—with all of the gadgets and tech toys and privilege that some in this world do enjoy. But the answer is also No. We need to let our children be children. To delight in Play—which is also Work for the child, as Madeline L’Engle said somewhere in her book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. We need to let children revel in imagination and creativity and joy. To celebrate when we have the chance to celebrate. And we adults need that, too, quite often. And it’s our mission, too, to help others find ways to celebrate and live in the fullness of life . . . this life with its soaring heights and painful depths, its darkness and its light. 

So let’s get messy with paint and glitter, and let’s celebrate St. Patrick’s Day or something—anything. Let’s get lost in bringing joy to another, and may leprechauns surprise us with joy ourselves. 

The journey of lighting the candle anyway. . . .

We publish a monthly newsletter from our church, and this is the brief article I shared as an encouragement during the season of Lent 2021. As I was typing it, I thought to myself, “This would make a good blog post, too!” And I just love candles. I really do. (As evidenced by the number of candle pictures I post on this blog.) And, as I mention in the following article, the dear friend who makes candles is the lovely lady behind The Sudsery Soap Studio. Check out her gorgeous candles and soaps on her gorgeous website at http://www.thesudserysoapstudio.com. Light a candle. Take a soothing bath. Love yourself, and love others. We’re going to get through this together.

————————————–

            One evening, recently, I lit one of my favorite candles and put it on the kitchen counter. Just because I love candles. There’s something so special for me about lighting a candle . . . seeing a blackened wick change and burst forth with a golden glow. And, over time, the wax surrounding the wick starts to melt and pool, and a warm, beautiful fragrance starts to fill the room and wrap around me like a hug. I especially love this particular candle, because 1) my talented and creative friend made it and 2) the scent is spicy and sweet and cozy, like toasting marshmallows over a campfire. The ironic thing, though, about my lighting of this candle is . . . I can’t smell it now! I lost my sense of smell and taste with my recent bout with COVID. I knew that, the other evening, but I lit the candle anyway. 

            Perhaps this will be my guiding thought for this Lent of 2021. The world might seem dark. We’ve lost things, great and small. But we light the candle anyway. Because it sends out light and hope. It creates warmth—even if just a little bit. It offers the promise of a lovely fragrance—even if we can’t experience it right now. Even if we can’t experience it quite yet. It reminds us of people and things we love, and it sparks a sense of community across time and space. So we light the candle anyway.

            Friends, let’s journey through this Lenten season together. Even if the days seem dark, we walk together and we walk with God. We learn and grow together as we go. And let us fix our eyes on the hope ahead. Let us light our candles . . . anyway.

The Journey of Putting on Make-up. . . .

This is not a make-up tutorial. But it is a reflection on how I’m making it through. 

This morning, I made the bold decision to put on make-up. It’s an investment of time—but not too much time, really—in the hectic schedule of the morning. And I’ve become a devout believer—perhaps thanks (?) to life in a pandemic—that people don’t need make-up. We’re beautiful as we are, and we don’t need cosmetics to cover us up and/or make us better. But this morning, it was a deliberate choice for me. It was my choice . . .  to care. To give a you-know-what about something. To care about details. To care about myself (supposedly, the make-up I use is healthy and natural and nourishing and all those good things). So I pulled out the multitude of little jars of powder and all the accompanying brushes that claim to achieve their various tasks, and I methodically and deliberately applied it to my face. With as much concentration and devotion as I might handle prayer beads, I tap-tap-tapped the powder into the jar lids, swirled the brushes in my flesh-colored dust, and pressed the powdery brushes onto my skin. And then, as a final, joyfully defiant flourish, I applied mascara to my eye lashes. And even put on earrings, too!

I did this little ritual, because life is hard. There are so many good things happening in my life, but there are some painfully important elements that are missing, too. Admittedly, I’m not experiencing life in all its fullness right now. One loved one is deeply hurting physically and emotionally right now. Another loved one just suffered a brain aneurism and stroke yesterday. Disease and division, hate and fear, and twisted realities hover all around me—around all of us—right now. And, honestly, even though I’m a pastor and supposed to have all of my stuff together so I can take care of other people—sometimes, all of those awful things in our world feel like they’re about to do me in. My heart hurts. My soul aches. And I, in comparison with many in our country and in our world, actually have it pretty good and privileged. . . . 

A very dear and faithful friend sent my husband a message recently with the words, “Jesus, I trust you.” And he and I both are trying to take that to heart. But last night, in my mind and heart’s space, I cried out, “God, I don’t trust you!” This morning, over our coffee-time reflections, I shared that with my husband. I admitted, “I’ve either come to a point where I don’t trust God any more. Or maybe that was my confession that I haven’t been trusting God—but want to.” He said, “I believe it’s the latter.”

So I’m falling back on stuff I learned years ago in divinity school. Spiritual disciplines. We call them disciplines, because we do them, even when we don’t feel them. I’m choosing to pray today. To be intentional about even a few moments of personal quietude and listening to a Spirit greater than I. I will find some words that someone else has written to guide me in prayers. Because I just can’t do it myself today. 

The Journey of Epiphany 2021. . . .

Buffalo horns and red banners and gas masks and guns and people filled with fear and people filled with anger . . . so much anger. These are the images that still haunt me a week later, as I sit at my desk in my new Associate Pastor’s office. Anxiety and disgust and disappointment were my initial feelings. And I still feel those. But I’ve struggled with “official” words to say, as a pastor, to respond to what happened this day, last week, at our nation’s Capitol. 

So many people seemed immediately to have just the right words to say, as they posted on social media. I’m a ponderous person, so it sometimes takes me longer to find the words. I remember seeing a clever description of last Wednesday’s events as the “Epiphany Insurrection”—a burningly ironic name, I suppose, as the Church celebrated Epiphany that very day. . . . Epiphany being that time when the Wise Ones encountered Jesus and gave him gifts. When barriers were broken down between “us” and “them.” When we celebrate the Light breaking into this crazy world with its pain and darkness. But last Wednesday was so much the opposite of all that. There was division . . . a cruelly hardened “us versus them” mentality. There was hatred and violence, the antithesis of peace. There was darkness for our country that was noticed around the world. 

But Epiphany also means an “A-ha!” moment. And my “A-ha!” came from seeing the banners with the words “Jesus 2020” emblazoned on them. And it made me wonder: where was Jesus in all of this? Was Jesus on the campaign trail now? Was he—a brown-skinned Middle Eastern peasant who spoke of God’s love and justice and peace and a different kind of “kingdom”—being represented there?

And it made me realize that my new “job” as an Associate Pastor at a new church is going to be pretty hard. I work for that name that had been put on those banners. As a pastor, I am representing Jesus. I represent God’s love, truth, peace, justice, hope. . . . How will I represent Jesus with love and integrity to all people—those who cheered on the events of last Wednesday as well as those who were appalled by them? And I would say “and everyone in-between,” but is there an in-between nowadays? 

Journey with me as I ponder this, as I stumble and pick myself up again, as I reach out to others along the way. As I figure out how to do this ministry thing with the “Jesus” label in a painfully fractured world. . . .