kindom musings

Thoughts and musings from a pastor in the peace tradition. Perspectives come from a progressive, justice-minded, feminist position. Responses are welcome.

Location: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, United States

I am a Church of the Brethren pastor in my thirties. While I love what I do, I started out with plans to be a veterinarian. God has a great sense of humor, and I wound up in ministry instead. However, my sojourn into veterinary science did make me a vegetarian with a love of animals. (We have two cats and a dog at home -- only a small petting zoo!) My husband is also ordained, and we have a son (LB) and a daughter (KB). My husband keeps me up to date on baseball trivia, and my children keep me giggling. All in all, it makes for a well-rounded life. I was born in Pennsylvania, moved several times for school and work, and have recently returned to my home state. On the Myers-Briggs scale, I'm an INFP.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

and then there were three...

Exactly one month ago (well, within an hour of exactly a month), we welcomed a new life into the family. A year ago, I wouldn't have imagined this as a possibility or even something we wanted to pursue. We thought we were complete as a family, and in fact, my husband was in the process of taking measures to ensure this reality. However, fate or God or life itself can sometimes take us in directions we don't anticipate, and about nine months ago, I realized I had a new life inside of me.

Initially, I wasn't sure how I felt about it. Sometimes, it's hard to wrap my mind around possibilities not of my design. I admit feeling some resentment, not to mention increasing the stretch I feel between being a pastor and being a mom. I was quick to think of all the things I wasn't looking forward to revisiting -- diapers, tender breasts from nursing, multiple interruptions during the night, absolute dependence on us for everything.... However, as time went on, the idea of another child grew on me, and in me (sorry -- couldn't help the pun). Our family of four was going to become a family of five, whether or not it was part of the plan.

When he was finally born, all those doubts and dreads melted with the awareness that I was once again part of the most amazing miracle of all, to share with God in the act of creation and bringing life into the world. As he looks at me with the perfectly innocent eyes that somehow contain the wisdom only babies and the aged seem to possess, I fell in love with him.

Yes, I am sleep-deprived, and my body doesn't really feel like it's my own, but I am content. My husband and I are now parents of three, and we are readjusting to a new reality. It somehow feels appropriate that this is happening in Lent, a time to remember what matters most and to get rid of false assumptions in order to make room for new life.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

5 years

My last post was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Now it is the day before Maundy Thursday, a day most Chruch of the Brethren congregations celebrate Love Feast. For a low church tradition, this is about as high and holy as we get. The service involves a time of examination, washing of one another's feet, a simple meal, and communion. For me, it defines the fullness of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. In some ways, I look forward to it more than I do Easter, even though it looks toward the looming cross instead of bearing witness to an empty cross.

I've never been a big proponent of bloody remembrances. I cringe at Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ (for more than one reason), and I find the idea of a bloody atonement and a wrathful God inconsistent with everything else I have come to believe about faith and God's mercy. Nevertheless, Love Feast names the love of Jesus that is not limited by threats of death or suffering and that creates an enduring community. Its emphasis on service, a horizontal relationship of Christian kinship among brothers and sisters, give me a glimpse of what it means to try to live into
the reign of God. Communion forms the other axis, a connection to the essence of God, not in a literal body and blood way, but no less a powerful symbol of Jesus in our midst. This service both humbles and strengthens me as I step into Good Friday and eventually Easter morning.

There are interesting connections with Maundy Thursday falling on the first day of Spring. It's easy to think of the symbolism of new life and restored hopes. However, today I am stopped cold by a different time marking. This is the 5th anniversary of our invasion of Iraq. Nearly 4,000 US lives, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, unknown numbers of injuries and displacements later, we still show no clear signs of drawing to a close. President Bush called it harder and more costly than anticipated, "but it's a fight we must win." What is it that he and supporters anticipate we can win? History shows that humiliating an enemy rarely produces lasting peace and usually mushrooms a sense of terror. Financial costs aside ( and they are large in and of themselves), what does this war reveal about what we truly value? I am reminded of a quotation that you can no more win a war than you can an earthquake.How can you win a war if it means the destruction of lives, wishing an annihilation of enemies, and forsaking your own understanding of justice and goodness? Among Christians, how can we not see the disconnect between killing "enemies" and bowing before Jesus who, while he was on the cross spoke (at least according to Luke) of his tormentors "forgive them for they know not what they do."

Mary watched her son die as an innocent, and Christians believe that his death put an end to the power of death. Other traditions name that life is a value and the killing is never without a cost to the spirit. Isn't it time for us to stop offering sacrifices to the god of death and to start living the faith we say we proclaim?

For those who hold to no religious convictions, what does one's basic sense of humanity say? My son was born shortly before this war began, and I remember thinking of mothers and fathers who faced losing their precious baby boys and girls, regardless of their age. There must be a better way to pursue our interests or the justice we claim to want to promote.

May the tears of grief shed today lead to an Easter of release and restoration of life! Maranatha!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ash Wednesday

I've had a lot on my mind, lately. There have been significant happenings in my life and to those with whom I am close. Few of those things feel appropriate to post on a blog. And so I have largely kept them to myself, or at least kept them from an unknown audience.

However, today gives me pause to reflect. At the beginning of Lent, I'm drawn once again into this strange season I both despise and need. I long to settle into a deeply spiritual examination of self in these next six weeks, to not cheat and simply mark time until Easter. Another part of me resists taking on additional disciplines or making additional sacrifices in this season. For my Anabaptist leanings, it feels strange that I long for ashes on this day, not to say that I am worthless, but as a reminder that faith in Jesus lifts me when I feel like what is leftover after a brightly burning flame.

I have cried too many tears in the last few weeks, for broken relationships, for a friend's grief, for awareness of my own limitations. The other day, I ran across one of Jan Richardson's writings in In Wisdom's Path. I had the opportunity to be with her at a women's retreat several years ago and am moved by her words and artistic images. In this writing, she spoke of a tear jar and referred to tears as the "sweating of the soul." That image feels particularly powerful today.

We don't have an Ash Wednesday service here at the church, and I doubt I'll be able to slip into another service. In lieu of that ritual, I offer these thoughts.

Stopping at the grocery store today for a few last-minute items,
I saw a woman and child, each with a gray ash cross on her forehead.
My hand unconsciously went to my own forehead before I realized that it was bare.
To their eyes and to the world around, my faith is not openly worn today.
No vestments, not even a cross necklace symbolize the religious leanings,
far less that I am an ordained minister, serving as a religious leader.
To the outside world, no one would even know that I am aware of this day after Mardi Gras.

But tears have been my companion, inward and occasionally external signs that there is more below the surface than what might be easily visible.
I weep for relationships that are less than I dream they could be.
I weep for friends whose struggles seem unbearable, and I am too far away from them to hold them with anything more than prayers, words, and tears.
I weep for a world with too much violence, too little compassion.
I weep for my own too frequent complacency.

In my mind, I envision these tears mixing with ashes to form a tangible paste,
And in my imaginings I envision God hold this paste, adding additional tears and a fierce love,
Then using it to bind together the pieces that feel hollow or broken.
Draw me near to you, God of creation and re-creation.
Continue to breathe life into me, into all of your sons and daughters.
In the name of Christ who walked and walks among us,
Stirring up dust and lighting fires of faith from abandoned ashes.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Finding seashells with my four-year-old -- a poem of sorts

No souvenir shop finds, these shells.
Broken in pieces, picked over by seagulls and punded down by waves.
Even the whole ones are wholly ordinary, small, with no unusual colors or markings.
No wonder they were passed by, passed over by tourists and collectors.

But this was my son's first trip to the beach, first time to see the ocean.
To him, each fragment of shell was precious, beautiful, worth saving.
He placed them in his plastic bucket, selecting them with care,
envisioning sharing them with his pre-school classmates.

Through his eyes, I could see discarded shells with a new perspective.
Who is to say what is beautiful or worth keeping.
Beauty is not solely contained in perfect forms.
In the midst of what seems ordinary, love and wonder create exquisite radiance.

So these bits of shells now live in our home, reminders of a day at the beach.
They are far more valuable than purchased mantle-piece masterpieces,
because these are the shells that delighted my son, filled him with joy and amazement,
and led him to hold my hand and say, "We're friends, right?" Treasures beyond measure.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

of rain and tears

This was originally going to be an article for the church newsletter, but it feels too dark, too heavy. I realized about halfway through that it has more of my own processing than a neatly wrapped newletter page feel to it. So I post it here in its combined roles as personal reflection and pastoral letter, though a piece of me wonders if this raw piece would be more of what at least some people need right now. ...

So far, this Spring has been very wet. Between regular showers and the dreaded Nor'Easter, rain and threats of snow have been regular features of weather forecasts. Local creeks and rivers have reached the top of their banks, and more than once, the children's sing-song rhyme, "Rain, rain, go away. Come again some other day" has come to mind.

It makes me think of other rain phrases: "Into every life a little rain must fall"; "Every cloud has a silver lining"; and "When it rains, it pours." All of these sayings try to make bad situations seem better, and unfortunately, all have been overused to the point that they feel more like trite cliches than expressions of sympathy or comfort.

But rainstorms come, sometimes when we feel least prepared. Sometimes things happen in life that flood our ability to cope and make sense of what's going on around us. As I write this reflection, news stories are filled with unfolding events of the multiple shootings at Virginia Tech. The news is so tragic, so horrifying, it sweeps over senses like tidal waves, flooding us with grief and questions. What could have provoked such violence? How will families of victims find strength and healing? What about the family of the shooter?

Once again, our general feeling of safety and normalcy has been drowned in a torrent of anxiety, shock, fear, and anger. In the days ahead, we will assuredly get much more information -- probably more than any of us can handle. Even so, many of us will still be asking questions of why and what now. At times, we may be tempted to want the stories, like rain, to simply go away, taking all of the pain with it. But unlike rain, there is no positive outcome we can imagine. So how do we make sense out of what is senseless? Perhaps it's too early to ask the question.

This is a time to trust and rely on faith. Without trying to find easy answers, we are drawn by the comfort and wisdom of spiritual ancestors who called upon God to find meaning in the midst of despair. Like other people of faith through the ages, we try to come to tems with actions that are cruel and violent. In the process, we come face to face with God who "makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." (Matthew 5:45)

As tears fall from the eyes of those who are grieving, we struggle to come to terms with what it means that evil exists in the world, even as we, to quote one reporter, "must hold to the belief that there is good in the world." As rain falls, sometimes with destructive force, we find hope that the sun will shine again, drying the earth once more. As tears fall and we lose sight of trust in humanity, we also look for signs of care, of courage, of God's infinite compassion, and ultimately, of life.

Monday, March 12, 2007

In Detroit of all places...

Okay, so my plans to post regularly have obviously not happened. When I've had things to write about (all brilliant and insightful, I'm sure), I've been too tired keeping up with kids and job to take the time to post anything. When I've had time to post, absolutely nothing has come to mind. So I've had a three month dormancy, and I'd feel guilty about that, except I started this blog as something that would be healthy and life-giving. Criticizing myself for a dormancy seems counter-productive. Besides, I'm in a mood to write again.

I just spent an incredible weekend with some very meaningful women in my life. I won't even try to capture how special they each are to me with mere words, but suffice it to say that although I don't see most of them more than once a year, I can share some of my greatest senses of triumph and tragedy with them and fully trust that they will be held with sacred compassion. What a blessing!

What surprised me on this trip was how meaningful a trek from one concourse to another at the Detroit airport became to me. Detroit was a layover airport both coming and going. I've flown into Detroit before and had noticed the lights and music that separate Concourse A from B and C. I guess that's the current trend in airports. O'Hare has its neon lights; Denver has its musical ride between terminals; there are probably lots of other airports doing similar things. But Detroit has a whole concert with changing music and sounds and changing light scenes all along this corridor. The walls have a rippled texture and these panels of light covering the whole rainbow spectrum pulse from one end to the other. When I entered it this afternoon, trying to get from one end to the other with at least a few minutes to spare before boarding my next flight, the whole area was a deep blue. It was silent and mostly dark. All of a sudden lights flashed at the other end and I heard what sounded like a gentle rainstorm. The lights changed from midnight blue to a teal color, and I realized I could see people faces more clearly. A bright light flashed again, and I could see (or imagine) the same moment of awe and recognition of beauty on their faces that I felt inside myself. It was as if these strangers, all in hurry to go one direction or another, were sharing in this experience, and for a few minutes, we were invited to experience something together that had nothing to do with air travel. Nonetheless, I felt transported into a different frame of mind. Although I was in a hurry, I felt a sense of peace, no doubt the hope of those who designed the corridor. Yes, it is artificial, but I am thankful for gift of the sights and sounds.

I know I wasn't the only one to take notice of it. A small group of people sat on the floor, out of the way of foot traffic and moving sidewalks. I thought at first that they were waiting for othes in their party, and maybe they were, but perhaps they were just pausing to watch the show. In addition to the created lights and sounds, I saw other people taking pictures with cameras or cell phones. I too wanted to capture the moment, but I didn't have a camera with me. Instead I have to settle for a memory and these all too inadequate words.

Maybe the sights and sounds were so meaningful because they remind me that life is full of unexpected beauty and grace. For all the drudgery of days, the discouraging awareness of troubles in the world, the often too-fast pace of life, God continues to offer opportunities to see minor miracles of goodness. It is in the faces of strangers who pull over in their travels to share in the sight of a beautiful rainbow together or in stories of those who offer random acts of kindness. It is in baby smiles and the wizened hands of the elderly. There are so many sights and sounds that daily reaffirm that God's creation is good, and that we too, as part of that created, are included in that goodness and blessing. Who would have thought an airport could produce such warm feelings?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Longest Night

This has been a really long day, full of both incredible joys and incredible pain. Somehow it seems fitting that today is the longest night. As we get closer to Christmas, it seems especially important to remember thsoe for whom the holidays hold grief and sadness. Jesus came into the world, mostly unnoticed and in the midst of real dangers. His birth, at least in Matthew's version, is accompanied by death and destruction. Weeping and mourning soon joined the shouts of jubilation.

But this night is also a reminder that daylight is coming. If we make it through the night, we will begin to explore more light. The days will grow longer, and with it, hope will be restored. What seemed impossible will begin to give way to new life and rebirth. In the meantime, we light candles as individual and corporate acts of defiance against the darkness.


Last Sunday was the third Sunday of Advent, a Sunday in which we lit the pink Advent candle, often called the Mary Candle. This Sunday, the Magnificat is a primary text. As I work on Sunday's sermon, I am again reminded of the varied and often hidden roles of biblical women. So often Mary is relegated to the pure vessel for God's own Son, and her voice is not always heard. However, the Magnificat speaks with tones that display both strength and faith. Mary is a brave woman, not a mousy servant but one who is willing to take on the riskiness of being an outcast in her community.

Though biblical accounts don't give a lot of information about her or much insight into her character throughout Jesus' adult life, her name and presence are also not completely absent. Though she may not fully understand Jesus' mission, she remains his mother, and in his very human nature, he holds a piece of her heart. How could a loving mother not coo to him as a baby, try to protect him as a child, cry out for him when she sees him in pain, or go him in times of both mourning and resurrection?

Nearly four years ago, I gave birth to my son. At the time, I said I had never felt so close to God as creator. Remebering that time, as well as my later pregnancy and birth experience with my daughter, I think it is true that mothers know something about incarnation that men, sensitive though they may be, can never quite grasp. It is in our being, in the potentiality of life that ebbs and flows each month, in the choices we make and the relationships we keep. Even in the most patriarchal societies, women usually have the strongest early influence on children. It is here, through nursing or feeding -- or the lack thereof -- that questions of safety and attachment are either answered or raised. It is here where love is first felt or first denied. Through pregnancy and through birth, life is put on the line in order to bring new life into the world. How much more so that was and is in places where pre-natal care is neither available nor utilized. For Mary to say yes to the angel was to risk her very life. It is not the act of a passive woman -- or teenager, most likely -- but the bold act of faith that would later be repeated on a grand scale by her son.

I found this liturgy in a lectionary and arts book. Although I rarely focus on Jesus' blood (especially at Advent and Christmas), birth does not come without blood. New life is messy, whether it comes in the form of a baby or in spiritual renewal. Why wouldn't Mary claim her connection with boldness, and in the process give shape to our own corporeal connection to Christ?

All the way to Elizabeth and in the months afterward, she wove him, pondering, “This is my body, my blood!”

Beneath the watching eyes of donky, ox, and sheep she rocked him, crooning, “This is my body, my blood!”

In the moonless desert flight and the Egypt-days of his growing, she nourished him, singing, “This is my body, my blood!”

Under the blood-smeared cross she rocked his mangled bones, remembering him, moaning, “This is my body, my blood!”

When darkness, stones, and tomb bloomed to Easter morning, she ran to him, shouting, “This is my body, my blood!”

And no one thought to tell her: “Woman, it is not fitting for you to say those words. You don’t resemble him.”
--Irene Zimmerman

Women who have given birth in comfortable (relatively speaking) hospital beds, in homes, in fields, know well the very real meaning of body and blood. They know the song of Mary, not as a weak woman but as one who was strong enough to give birth to the Christ child, to nurture and instruct him, to watch him up close and from afar, to dream about the changes he would bring, and to weep as she felt her heart be crushed as she watched soldiers crush her son. This woman is the soul of all women who dare to love and hope, who pour themselves into the life of a child and who continually bear dreams for a better world.

Blessings to all women who are or have been pregnant, either in the flesh or preparing to give birth to dreams and visions. And blessings to partners who lend their support and understanding.