Lutheran Lent Part Two: BEST LENT EVER!

17 Mar

I’m having the best Lent EVER.

That’s a relative term, you understand.

Lent is usually fraught with all kinds of things…general busy-ness due to the sheer volume of worship services going up by 30% this year plus regular kid and family business.

And I usually tend to add on some kind of discipline that weighs on me, like a physical discipline or fasting from something or whatever it might be, so you can add in guilt to the equation. Even if I don’t “cheat” from whatever it is that I’m doing, I sure end up thinking about it a lot.

This year, in my quest to just BE, I’ve found out two things.

One, sometimes BE-ing is hard. I have indeed been tempted to turn this into a “have-to” kind of thing, like scheduling ten minutes to just BE. I’ve been hard on myself when my mind races, because I’m not just BE-ing like I said I would. Ridiculous. But true.

Two, it’s also been really awesome. By releasing myself from some weird pressure to DO something, I’ve created space for those things to actually happen. I’m enjoying sermons, both mine and not mine. I’m showing up on my yoga mat and running when it’s not crappy outside, just for fun.

I don’t know if I’ll do this every year, because I think disciplines are good…I think they help us convert and shed our skin to a NEW way of being, if that’s what needs to happen.

But this year, this is GOOD. I watched my favorite movie the other afternoon between meetings and was not at all surprised to see this wisdom at the end. I can do that too!

Ash Wednesday for Lutherans

5 Mar

sunsetSo, this year for Lent, I’m doing NOTHING.

Let me explain. One of my wonderful sister friends who is also a pastor is in a new parish this year. When you get into a new church, especially when they haven’t had a pastor for a while, they tend to want to DO a lot of things.

I think this is our impulse for Lent as well. Even knowing all the extra things I have to *do* in the 46 days before Easter (YES, there are 46! The Sundays count!), I still have the urge to add something on or give something up. This is fine. Some years, this has really worked for me.

But I don’t know about this year.

I said recently in a sermon that it’s been four funerals and a wedding in the first two months of the year, and that is true and exhausting. One of those funerals was my stepbrother, who was 36 years old. I’m tired, and I just simply don’t want add anything on or give anything up.

But that’s okay.

My prophetic friend who has the new church? She decided that instead of DOing, that maybe they should just BE. Maybe before jumping into adding new programs or making all kinds of plans that they should just simply BE together, in the presence of God.

She envisions Bible study and prayer, not as part of a program, but as part of being Jesus to each other. Simply BE-ing.

For this Lent, this seems right to me. I want to just BE. I’m going to show up for worship and lead it sometimes. I’m going to show up on my yoga mat each day. I’m going to read my scripture and meditate on what it means for that day. I might even fast. But the second that any of those things turns into a “HAVE TO” or a “MUST” or a “JESUS WON’T LOVE ME UNLESS I” I’m quitting. I’m going to stop, and just BE.

This strikes me as very Lutheran. It’s hard, but all we have to do for God to love us is BE. That’s it.

Years ago, a spiritual director and friend told me that if I couldn’t talk to God, maybe I could envision God as a color, and just sit in the presence of that color.

I saw the color of the sunset, reds and golds and oranges, and even though I couldn’t talk to God at that time in my life, I could sit there with God. I could move into God’s presence, that beautiful color. I could BE.

And so if this year is like that for you, this is what I invite you into: Don’t DO anything. NOTHING! Just BE.

Big Ol’ Advent Photo Project Roundup!

10 Dec

I’ve been taking pictures for the 3rd(?) Annual Advent Photo project, hosted by Rethink Church on Twitter and Instagram. The idea is that you create your own Advent calendar, making it an exercise in mindfulness, by snapping a picture each day that represents one word that you are given.

I LOVE this project because it does exactly what it’s supposed to do: make me mindful about Advent as I go about my day. So here are the first week’s photos for those of you not on Twitter or those other social media platforms:

Day One: GO When we were in Florida for Thanksgiving, we got to try paddleboarding for the first time. I’m SO hooked. There’s nothing I’ve experienced that’s more meditative than GO-ing along the water like this, through the mangrove tunnels and all.

Day Two: BOUND Fifteen years next year of being bound together, in the best possible way.

Day Three: PEACE I actually TOOK this photo off the dock in Florida as well. It was the sky after a giant, cracking storm, and it was that beautiful shade of grey that stretched on forever.

Day Four: TIME I noticed that pictures of my son, my brother, and my dad, all about the same age, were on my fridge. Time is a funny thing.

Day Five: FLOOD Out the car window on the way home. Unfortunately, flooding is not hard to find these days around my house.

Day Six: AWAKE I went to a pet store to get some cat wipes (don’t ask), and stopped to look at the sleeping birdies. Then, suddenly…

Day Seven: READY About to step out to lead worship. Stole, boots, and game face on.

Day Eight: WISDOM My ancient dog. She is blind, deaf, and while she had anxiety issues in her younger years, she’s pretty zen, now.

Day Nine: DELIGHT Once a year, you can go to the Fox Theatre in Atlanta for free, sing Christmas carols, and watch a movie. AND there’s snow in Georgia! Delightful.

I’ll do another roundup in another nine days or so. It’s not too late to join in…it will help you slow down, and, literally, focus. (See what I did there?)

Another look at Advent

18 Nov

ned stark

It sure is.

Advent is breathing down our necks, all of us. Pagan friends debate solstice gifts and traditions. Clergy types stress about each word for our worship services. If you live in America, there’s an almost irresistible pull towards the Target store, Cyber Monday, buying our pink aluminum trees.

Aluminum-Trees-1

Do you think I’m going to get all preachy about consumerism?

Nope. I’m not. And here’s why. I was ready to get my Advent on. I was ready to do my fourth consecutive year of the Advent Conspiracy, where we talk about how the gift of clean water is perhaps more important that that sweater she doesn’t need or that extra toy he won’t notice.

It IS.

But then I read this. Go read it. I’ll wait.

I got to meet Jenee on a Chickpastor cruise put on by the Revgals a few years ago, where we studied preaching texts with her for a few days on a wobbly Carnival ship. She’s got a way of making you see things differently, and much of that is due to her son, who has autism. She told us that when she read the Bible story of the demonic man screaming at Jesus, she read it as the demon’s mother.

And now she’s changed my preachiness about Advent to…something else.

I’m still gearing up for the assault of the ads. I’m still hoping to give to people who have less than nothing instead of giving too much. I want to walk through Target and only buy what I need (still working on that one!) But it’s been reframed.

Instead, what I want to do is look for miracles where I might least expect them. I want to celebrate consumerism, if it means that a young man might have a better life. I want to peek into mangers all over the place, searching for that baby, that miraculous child, that light in the darkness.

#Chickbishop13!!!

8 Oct
Proud to share a name with the Presiding Bishop!

Proud to share a name with the Presiding Bishop!

Last weekend, I flew up to Chicago (my arms weren’t tired, thanks to the ten million relatively cheap shuttles that go from Atl to Chi on a regular basis). It was a crazy knee-jerk trip, which I never do, but when Bishop Elizabeth Eaton was elected a few months ago and BONUS one of my BFFs lives in Chicago, it was clear that I was ON. A. PLANE.

On Saturday, we got into Full Chickpastor Collar.

I'm in the middle. Aren't my friends so amazing?

I’m in the middle. Aren’t my friends so amazing?

We waited outside for the doors to open with lots of other Lutherans. There was a really awesome buzz of excitement in the air, and the only thing I can compare it to (which I keep comparing it to) was the fun feeling before someone you know is about to get married!

I ran into new and old friends from everywhere, and there were tons of women clergy, collared and not. There were also tons of younger people, seminarians, college students, plenty of people in that sought-after millennial generation to see this historic event.

Worship itself was kind of a blur of wonderful. My favorite moments included:

The beauty of the first few hymns’ and a cantor with a gorgeous voice who led the singing when the Bishop walked in, shaking water over all of us so we could remember our baptisms.

The blessings from the international bishops, who included a really awesome number of women, over Bishop Eaton’s ministry. They spoke and prayed privately with her, one at a time, as she knelt at the rail. To see two women in this role….all of us were teary. It made me remember how important it is for all of us who collar and are women to just SHOW UP, and that makes a statement of God’s radical inclusion.
Susan-Johnson_10-7-13

When the actual installation began, a wind began to blow in from the side doors. I am not making this up.

The former Bishop took off his cross, and put it around Bishop Eaton’s neck, carefully, pronouncing a blessing on her.

She gave the closing blessing in fluent Spanish, which just underscores her commitment to the fact that our world is changing quickly, and the gospel of grace needs to be preached in as many ways as we are gifted!

I was so, so, very happy to be a part of this celebration, because that’s what it was…a total party, a total “Amen” to the crazy, amazing things that God is doing among the Lutherans.

(The blog below is written by one of the first woman pastors in the Lutheran Church, who also attended the installation.)

http://www.livinglutheran.com/blog/2013/10/of-course—-reflections-on-the-installation-elizabeth-eaton.html

God is good…when, exactly?

12 Sep

Not quite ready for this.

I went to Goodwill yesterday to drop off a bunch of stuff, which is not unusual. I don’t have a basement, and that makes for good stewardship of stuff if you don’t want to live in piles (I don’t, not all the time).

At Goodwill, the worker who helped me with my giant bin of clothes commented on my car, which is also not unusual. I drive a Nissan Leaf, a totally electric car. I get asked about it probably weekly, and have extensive conversations with people who are thinking about getting one. I love talking about it because it’s one of the best things we’ve done financially this year, plus I get to drive a nicer car than I’ve EVER driven before.

So I talked to the worker about it for a little while.

“How much gas does it use?”
“None.”
“NONE?”
“Not a bit.”
“When’s the last time you got gas?”
“Um…..January?”

The worker said, “Wow, man.”

And then he looked at the car, and said, offhandedly, “God is good.”

And I said without thinking about it, “All the time.”

He looked at me with surprise and said, “That’s right!” as I got in the car and drove away.

Here’s the thing….theologically, I think this is true. I have a bit of a Stephen King mixed with Paul Tillich plus Richard Rohr theology about this: God is the ground of all being (Tillich), and so can support and encompass all things good and evil. Everything belongs (Richard Rohr), and so all things good and all things evil will eventually return to the good that is God. And that God is good, but God is cruel sometimes (Stephen King), meaning that all things work for good, but terrible things happen in the process that we can’t understand, because we didn’t make the world.

All that aside, it felt really good to say back to the guy, “All the time,” even if it was about my ridiculous car.

I tend to overthink things, as many of us do. And I get weirded out by being a Christian sometimes…by publicly taking on that label with all its baggage and assumptions. I get really uncomfortable with phrases like that, because I DO over think it! IS God good, all the time? It’s not in the Bible. It’s not in the basics of Christian faith. It’s just a phrase from a praise band. But there’s something about it, something like a liturgy, that’s really satisfying, even if I’m not sure I believe it all the time.

And maybe that’s the very definition of God. The GOOD that we see in the world, in ourselves, in others. God IS good.

All the time? I’m working on it, with the help of the prophet that I met at the Goodwill.

What I Read on My Summer Vacation

27 Aug

Okay, so I didn’t exactly have a summer vacation. And when I did actually go on vacation, I did more “traditional” vacation reading of the sacred (and theological, according to the Very Reverend Jill Henning) PEOPLE Magazine.

But I set a goal for myself for this summer to just read. Fiction, non-fiction, theological, worship, whatever I could consume, because I’ve had a bit of a dry spell as far as reading goes, and I wanted to remedy that. The extreme rain in Atlanta this year helped, also.

My children both had to read books this summer and write a short summary, so I thought that I’d do the same. Don’t grade it, please; but do respond with what YOU read this summer and any other recommendations!

Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown

I kept hearing about this author and sociologist, and finally listened to her podcast with Krista Tippett and then went ahead and bought her book. Basically, she was researching people’s connection to each other, and realized they couldn’t talk about connection without talking about shame and how they work through it in relationships. And she then goes to the “flip side” of shame, what she calls Wholeheartedness, and writes about being resilient to shame (which we all have) by practicing Whole hearted living. It’s pretty stunning…I’ll just give you number 7 of her markers for Wholeheartedness: “Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth.” YEAH. It’s all like that. There are SO many theological implications here…grace and shame (which was a class I took in seminary) and how we internalize grace or shame when we hear one or the other communicated in our churches, and how to practice grateful, wholehearted living as part of our discipleship. And how do we communicate to our children (and all of us, really) that they are deeply WORTHY of being loved and belonging, as she says it’s guided by our choices and daily practices?

New Interpreter’s Bible, “Ecclesiastes,” 1953 edition

I was gifted this set of volumes by a retired pastor who is a member of my congregation, and to be honest, I didn’t use them for quite a while. When I was stuck on a text even after translating and such I might crack one open, but they were a little….old. But when I was preaching a string of Ecclesiastes texts this summer, I read the whole commentary, and it was really a beautiful observation on the brevity of life and the futility, especially for pastors, to consider our lives as a means to an end.

Lean In, by Sheryl Sandburg

I’ll be discussing this book more on our podcast very soon, but this was the one book I read this summer (a VERY close second to Daring Greatly!) that actually changed my life. It’s not theological or even religious at all, but it’s about female leaders in all aspects of life, and I am WAY familiar with that. Much has been written about Lean In, but to me, it named phenomena that needed to be named. Mainly, she names the fact that we aren’t “way past all that feminist stuff,” and that we have much more work to do and a responsibility to the women who come after us to go ahead and “lean in” to our careers. She also points out that when women do become senior leaders of organizations, policy changes that are good for families tend to follow as well as other women in leadership. She got backlash for this book as well as for her TEDtalk, letting us know that the work isn’t finished, but it’s well worth reading no matter what your gender or what you do for a living.

In other news, I read some crazy good fiction this summer!

Dark Places and Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn

This is the writer of Gone Girl, and her first two novels are addictively insane. Both also involve an unreliable narrator who has certain….um…realizations, and yet again you don’t know what’s going to happen until THE. VERY. END. Delicious.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I adore Mr. Gaiman, and I read this book as an allegory for the things we remember as frightening in childhood, and the things that protect us. It’s beautiful and will stay with you in a good way, even though it has some scary stuff.

Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer

Amazing science fiction/mom-lit novel! When do you ever hear THAT combo?

Up next for me to read:

Wide Welcome by Jessicah Krey Duckworth

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

Game of Thrones (as I also watch the series as it’s available for us non-HBO types!) by George R.R. Martin

PLEASE tell me…what are YOU reading? What do you WANT to read?

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