Thursday, November 17, 2011

Very funny, God

So it seems that God and the universe have something of a wacky sense of humor.  A lifelong avoider of public speaking, I started finding my way out of front-of-the-class speaking assignments as early as third grade.  I’d read extra books, write extra reports, create elaborate tri-fold poster board creations, pretty much anything to get out of having to face down a roomful of eyes and the sound of only my own voice.  I’ve always been a relatively confident person, but something about the sheer vulnerability of public speaking renders me a bit… ridiculous.  Hands shaking, voice quaking kind of ridiculous.  I’ve gotten over this in stages, though not without a few tears shed over speech and preaching classes at seminary.
            People frequently, and very sweetly, reassure me that this ongoing struggle doesn’t show much when I preach.   I hope they are right.  This is a good thing, since that’s a part of my job.  I love crafting sermons, and I’m learning to love the act of delivering them.
            But, getting a grip on the pulpit (often literally), I thought God’s hilarious choice of calling me into a life of preaching was just about all the comedy I needed.  I was spectacularly wrong, as is often the case when I try to guess where my life is heading.  Within the past few weeks, I have been invited to speak about the justice issue of human trafficking multiple times and the list is growing.  At a Mosque.  At a Big 10 university.  At a high school to a hundred or more teenagers.  At churches.  At community centers.
            I made a promise a few years back to communicate about trafficking to anyone, anywhere, any time because I think it’s incredibly important.  People must know this is happening, and must be called to do something about it.  I just never assumed it would be me doing the talking.  
          So, dear friends and family, please feel free to pass the word around that I'm available to inform groups about human trafficking.  If you know of a group that is interested, please feel free to send me an email (
            I am incredibly honored to be doing this work alongside the parish ministry I love, and am going to continue to do my best to swallow those waves of nervousness that are becoming part of the preaching and teaching and speaking experience for me.  There’s a lesson in all of this about call, about God equipping you for what you need to do, and maybe about keeping your mouth shut about things that make you nervous, lest you be thrown head first into them.  And if nothing else, it’s a reminder that God is very, very funny.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


            One of the real joys of working with little kids is their complete and ridiculous honesty (and even when they start learning to lie, they’re usually pretty bad at it for at least a few years).  They are who they are, wherever they are, regardless of who else happens to be around.  If they are tired, jubilant, scared, hungry, nervous, or, as my nephew recently proclaimed himself, “feeling too wild”, you know it.  Because when we start life off, we are pretty much whole.  We are unified.  All the parts of our lives are integrated.
            But the older we get, the harder it gets.  We recognize that we have roles in life and our sense of self changes based on our counterparts or audience.  Few people know this more acutely than teenagers – the way we speak, dress, behave and even think can be wildly different when we’re with our friends, in front of teachers, with our parents, at church, at school, etc.   We conform to the roles others expect us to fulfill – for good or for ill.  If we’re the funny one, we’ll make jokes.  If we’re the smart one, we’ll study hard.  If we’re the problem kid, we’ll get into trouble.  Kids are pigeon-holed from an early age and are tremendously aware of the expectations (spoken and implied) placed on them.
            The real trouble here is that, for a whole lot of people, we get the idea that the people we love will only love the version of us that they’ve come to know.  That’s more than a bit of a problem if we’re one person with them, and someone else entirely in other parts of our lives.  Everybody’s got some secrets, but the more varied our personas and roles get, the harder it can be to ever feel whole or intact.  Who doesn’t know an adult with a “business voice / face / demeanor” who changes 180 degrees around when they get home for the day?  Maybe that’s just the reality of adults doing what we have to do to survive.  Or maybe it’s demonstrative of our inability to trust that anybody would - -if they really knew the truest, most integrated “us” completely – love us just as we are. 
            Since God created us each as integrated and whole, maybe living into that a bit more in our daily lives will bring us closer to daily remembrance of that truth – somebody does love you, all of you, exactly as you are.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Dreaming Dreams

            In preparation for a preschool chapel session on courage, I’m re-reading the full story of Daniel.  It’s funny that the stories we knew best as little kids are often the ones we look at the least as adults.  Maybe because we think we already know those stories.  But man, the Bible is so rarely PG!  There is just a spectacular amount of intrigue, courtly mind games, fire-walking, and alliance-shifting in this story.  And if anyone is looking for a good motivator for kids to eat their veggies, that’s in there too.

            Amidst the royal temper tantrums and the threats of limb-from-limb tearing, we have yet another instance of that which happens all the time in the Bible – people dreaming dreams.

As a frequent somnambulist, I am fascinated by what exactly happens when we switch off for the night.  I often find myself waking up mid-sentence, or in a different room than the one in which I went to sleep, or absolutely convinced that there is something important and urgent I am in a rush to take care of, only to realize after a few moments of confusion (and occasional arguing with roommates) that the world is just as it was when I went to sleep. 

            While I have a dream life spotted with some pretty terrifying nightmares, I generally see dreams as a gift.  Sometimes nonsense, but sometimes a chance to connect with those we have lost, with those we miss, with places and times we have forgotten or never got to know.  We dream about what might be, and what couldn’t be except there, in that mix of imagination, memory, hope, faith, and possibility.  I can’t think that we would all spend this much of our lives engaged in this crazy alternative life of dreams if it were nothing more than keeping us from getting too bored when we sleep.   I think it’s worth paying attention to how much we all dream, and how much we all (from Nebuchadnezzar to now) crave understanding of our dreams.

While we may lack Daniel’s interpretive super powers, we have all been gifted with vision, with dreams, and with the capacity to be open to what God might be up to in this bit of mystery in each head.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Getting Excited about Church

Aaaaaaaand I'm back.  Hello all (or few, or some, or whatever)!  It's taken nearly two weeks to feel like I've truly got my feet back under me, back home near Chicago, but it feels great to be home.  Stepping back into the pulpit for prayers this Sunday was the same terrifying butterflies in the stomach adventure it was before I left -- a bit like being at home and in an Escher-esque dreamworld all at the same time.

Of course things are not as they were before I left.  My colleagues and the congregation I serve continued to grow and change in my absence, and so did I.  The anti-trafficking work I did this summer did a lot to shape my thinking about the relationship between the church and social justice, and the time I spent with a wide variety of church and un-church types did too.

A few examples...

The Arena warehouse space I lived for three months taught me how to relish the making of art.  I'm a die-hard museum freak and I love appreciating finished works, but there is something so visceral, so spectacularly human about watching people paint, write songs, collaborate, and explore their art, and my housemates demonstrated this act of love over and over again.  What would happen if we treated sermon writing more like art and less like a science or work?  What if every prayer became a loving act of creation, an offering?

The energy I saw at Greenbelt festival and gained from conversations with small and large church communities, local and international celebrities in the world of theology, vicars, pastors, preachers, and innovators.  Peter Rollins posed the question - what are we offering in Jesus that is any different than the quick fix of Coca-cola, Cadbury, or cigarettes?  Shane Claiborne pushed us to think about the radical inclusiveness of the church.  Nadia Bolz-Weber and Phyllis Tickle (who has, in fact, the best name ever) invited us to really think about the emerging church, and how it is different, deeper than trendiness.  To say I have a few new theological crushes is a serious understatement.

So I'm thinking about where all this fits into my personal ministry and into the life of the church as it grows, stretches, dies and is reborn -- the phoenix-like resurrection of the church on fire with spirit.  Looking forward to exploring this with anyone and everyone.

In the meantime, I'm reading and loving the following:

How (Not) to Speak of God - Peter Rollins - Nadia Bolz-Weber of House for All Sinners and Saints

Please send any favorites my way, and happy exploring!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Homeward Bound

For the friends and family who follow this blog, I apologize for the radio silence these last few weeks.  Between festivals, wrapping up projects, and saying farewells, things have been a delightful kind of chaos!

Amongst many thrilling experiences (including getting to help out on a UK bill of rights for kids), I went to Greenbelt Festival - four days of camping, making new friends, listening to music, hearing speakers (like the theologically dreamy Shane Claiborne and Pete Rollins), and, in my case, helping to promote and refine a design for Stop the Traffik's latest project, which will be unveiled across London leading up to the Olympics.  (Sidenote:  They're building a festival similar to Greenbelt for the states in North Carolina called Wild Goose Festival and, if it's anything like Greenbelt, I highly recommend getting there.  If I can get back to the UK for Greenbelt next year, I definitely will!)

I couldn't begin to capture everything that this summer has been, but I want to take this opportunity to say thank you.  Thank you to everyone who supported me emotionally, spiritually, and financially that I might have this amazing opportunity.  Thank you to ACT London and Stop the Traffik for allowing me to learn, share what I know, and be a part of their stunning team. 

I will miss a great deal about London -- primarily the great people I've met this summer (and the scones. And the casual existence of buildings that are many centuries old), but I'm also quite excited to get back to the states.  Back to family, friends, and another kind of ministry. 

As I think is completely normal in trips like this one, I'm walking (flying) away feeling like I've gained so much more than I've given.  This summer has been a real blessing, so thank you for helping me get here!

Monday, August 8, 2011

On Hope

When my plans changed from a service trip to Cape Town to one in London, most of my nearest and dearest breathed a sigh of relief at the compared relative safety of the two places.  And London is indeed incredibly safe.  Maybe that's why the riots of the last few days have people especially on edge.
A word of comfort - my daily routine has been completely unchanged.  The routes I take to and from various volunteer commitments are fine, and while it is pretty scary that the shops near my walking-distance grocery store were smashed and looted last night, it does appear that these riots are mainly targeting shops, not people or homes.  My house is tucked back in a residential neighborhood, so I'll exercise reasonable caution and all should be fine.

And now, a word on hope.  I'm not going to comment on the exact motivations of the (mostly young) people doing this rioting, because I haven't spoken to a single one in person and I don't think it's helpful to speculate in situations like these.  I do think it is important that things like this happen frequently when people feel fearful or hopeless.  You take a society where things look grim (either from dictatorial leadership, or just a bad slump in the economy, or distrust of the leadership), you fuel that fire by having high unemployment rates, and boom.  A whole lot of bored, angry people will try to gain control over their lives by any means necessary.  I am grateful we haven't seen this in the states recently and I hope people (particularly in democratic nations) everywhere can find a way of articulating their outrage without turning to violence.

There is an upside to this (stay with me here).  These riots and any similarly violent, seemingly pointless outburst are atrocious.  People's livelihood and in some cases lives are being put at risk and that's simply not okay.  But the upside is that it is a reminder (albeit a negative one) that we are creatures of hope.  In times and places where people have reasonable hope - young people have the promise of not only a good education, but confidence that they will be able to actively pursue a future after receiving that education -- I believe that instances like this are much more rare.  Of course they happen, and they can be instigated by myriad things.  But we are creatures who crave hope, direction, and futures.  We're creatures of Life.

Here's hoping order and, much more importantly, hope are restored to the streets of London and soon.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


So I know that redemption isn't mine to give, achieve, etc.  And I know that reconciliation isn't something that can be forced.  And I am aware that my every impulse is to minister to and protect survivors of trafficking.  But just a question I'd like wiser minds than mine to mull over ... when is it our responsibility to minister to perpetrators of these crimes?  I absolutely believe that people convicted of trafficking in the lives of others need to be punished for it.  But.. then what?

A purely punitive justice system doesn't leave much room for the Holy Spirit (or whatever Divine Other one chooses to name), for redemption, for reclamation of humanity.  Some people will always be angry, violent, and cruel, whatever happens.   But others are reacting to a brokenness that was caused by circumstances beyond their control, or are living out the consequences of terrible choices in earlier days.  This in no way excuses their behavior or serves to justify it.  But it does beg the question.. how can we, as a faith community, help address the larger broken systems?  How can we most effectively live out our faith in the lives of those who suffer, and those who cause suffering to others?  How does this re-framing of justice potentially impact the way we minister and live in practical, day-to-day ways?  In short, where is God in in justice on this scale?


Sunday, July 24, 2011

St. Luke's in Holloway

After a week of amazing conversations with Anglicans, Quakers, Unitarian Universalists, non-denoms, and people of any and all theological persuasion (or none at all), I feel like I'm making real headway in talking to total strangers about slavery and what we can be doing to stop it.  I am constantly humbled by the creative and passionate responses of people from all across the spectrum, and the support I keep finding replenished!  Thanks to one and all for the love and encouragement.

This morning, I sought church as a place of solace and comfort rather than a potential conversation partner in the challenging fight against trafficking.  I went to St. Luke's in Holloway, London (having already been intrigued after hearing Dave Tomlinson, their Vicar, lecture the week before).  It was phenomenal -- ancient space but with an eye on what the spirit is doing today.  Vibrant liturgy.  Diverse and affirming community.  Hymns that feel like slipping on an old, comfy hoodie (Be Thou My Vision), and revelatory interpretations (treating God's church as the fifth gospel and including a story of a member of the congregation's own life in with the Gospel reading).  I was touched by all the thoughtful participation in worship by lay leaders and clergy alike, and appreciated the stark honesty they seemed to have with one another.  Shouldn't church be a place where we feel confident we'll be loved, even if we bring our less-than-shiniest-selves?  I think part of living out the Christian story is knowing that we've all got stories - glorious and painful and dull and astounding -- and our lives are more complete when we share them.

Part of what left me the most touched was the deft handling of prayer this morning - prayer for the people of Norway in such sorrow and shock, and for those who feel so lost as to think such violence is a good idea.  Prayer for Amy Winehouse (no joke, they mentioned her in the prayers) and acknowledging the tragedy that is the loss of any young life, and the loss of talent, and prayers for all those who have to witness loved ones struggle with addiction.  Prayers for those who feel their love is unaccepted by the church, and prayers for those in the church who struggle to accept love in a variety of forms.  It was like all those things for which I sought solace and wisdom found their wording in the mouth of a stranger.  Church is pretty great like that.

WPC, I miss and love you all tremendously.  In the meantime, it's good to have found a church home away from home for the summer.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Don't Take Any Risks

This is a direct quote from London's tube, which is fast becoming a second home to me.  It's on a placard about what to do in the case of emergency - staying put, waiting for authorities, etc.  This strikes me as completely legit advice and exactly what I plan to do should an emergency strike, but it made me giggle right out loud when I first read it out of context.  As if some supernatural, overbearing fairy godmother were issuing a shrill reminder -- Ok, you're here.  That's fine.  But don't take any risks!

And that's just nonsense.  The world isn't a safe place.  There are safer and riskier places to be, obviously, but by and large you never know what's going to happen.  You could be in Calcutta for months and be just fine (yep), and you can be back home in the suburbs and find yourself on the wrong end of a storm (hope everyone's got power back at home now!).  Life just isn't safe.  Neither is God.  And you can worry your years away trying to make life feel safe, but you'll only be frustrated, and you'll experience so much less.

Taking risks for the sake of taking risks is a little silly and juvenile.  But taking risks for the sake of doing what needs to be done?  That's called living.  Go do it in abundance.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Did you know that, as I sit writing this, two children are being trafficked every minute?  That slavery - with conditions as bad or worse as those we learned about in grade school from the Trans-Atlantic slave trade - exists and impacts the lives of millions across the globe?  It's in every major city across the planet and often happens in the quiet neighborhoods most of us inhabit.  It discriminates only on the basis of economy.  Who can be taken and no one will come for them?  Who can be made compliant?  Who can fetch the best price?  I know the temptation is strong to put these things out of our heads.  They are ugly truths and painful to consider.  But that pain is nothing compared to those who experience this horror as their reality.  It is for their right to basic human dignity that we must look at these facts and then determine that the perpetuation of modern day slavery is a truth we will no longer abide.  For things you can do to help fight trafficking, please send me an email ( for a list of resources, and / or go here:

Pass the word on to your friends and loved ones.  For the two -to -four kids enslaved while you read this post, and the millions more just like them, please join the abolitionist fight today.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Reconciliation and Blood Brothers

Reconciliation - taking the scattered, smashed pieces of God's creation and attempting to fit them back together.  Piece by broken piece, person by broken person.  Reconciliation is the foundation of all ministry - we are trying to reconcile ourselves, one another, the world back to the vision of God's intended world.  We are trying to soothe the discord of the violence, turmoil, and cruelty that we accept are just "part of life".

In his brilliant account of his experiences growing up Christian in 1940's Palestine, Father Elias Chacour writes of the wisdom of his seminary professor, Father Longere, who said:

  "If there is a problem somewhere, this is what happens.  Three people will try to do something concrete to settle the issue.  Ten people will give a lecture analyzing what the three are doing.  One hundred people will commend or condemn the ten for their lecture.  One thousand people will argue about the problem.  And one person -- only one -- will involve him (or her) self so deeply in the true solution that he (or she) is too busy to listen to any of it.... Now, which person are you?"

Where do you fit into the reconciliation of the world?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Little Truth About Mission Projects

It's mission trip time!  So you've packed your backpack with some or all of the essentials (depending on whether or not you're going to someplace where they are likely to sell what you need... or think you need).  You've said a temporary goodbye to family and friends.  You've sorted through the million hassles of plane tickets, train tickets, International health insurance, phone / email / some form of communication with the home land, vaccinations (less of this in London than Calcutta, obviously), and you're... ready?  Sure.  Why not?  But ready for what?

This is the second trip I've taken that I'd qualify as a short-term mission project -- longer than a month in a foreign country, largely of my own design and choosing, and the last one with a friend in tow to India, this one a bit more solo.  Both times, I've gone, full of hope, expectations (some realistic, some not), and conviction that I am where God wants me to be - serving vulnerable people, and bringing a microphone to the silenced.

Then...once the wheels are down and the butterflies are calmed ... reality sets in.  Never do I doubt that I am doing what I am meant to be doing.  It's just important to keep a good grasp on what a mission project is and is not.  A mission project is a chance to explore, to search, to learn, to ask big questions, and to try to contribute as best you can in a short stretch of time.  A mission project is not non-stop-ecstatic-life-altering-soul-fulfilling-Spirit-filled goodness.  A fair bit of it can be, but going in seeking that sort of ecstasy can only lead to disappointment.  I have learned (and am still learning) to appreciate the quieter, and yet no less meaningful parts of mission work.  This is an opportunity and a tremendous gift to learn about self and call to God's work, whatever form that may take.  It's a chance to sit in conversation with perfect strangers and walk away feeling like they've been a friend all along.

It is also frequently about maintenance, good self care, communication, and pushing yourself.  Rarely is it actually the big leap of getting on the plane that represents the hardest part.  Settling into life post-arrival and really digging into the missional life -- that's when the real work seems to begin.

With gratitude and a quiet, happy heart, tonight.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Work Begins

While I'm massively enjoying the fun of exploring London on my own, and have spent a fair bit of time working on my own abolitionist project (I'm attempting to write a curriculum for churches to use when addressing human trafficking, particularly focusing on specific ways to approach it for youth groups, young adults, womens groups, etc.), today I began my role with London ACTS and Stop the Traffick.

I went to an excellent mini-festival called Envision which is all about giving young people opportunities to get involved in major issues.  One of the pivotal experiences of my childhood was having adults tell me that my ideas were good and had merit, and that I was capable of making a difference right then and there, not just when I got older.  I hope to pass that gift on to others.

  I spent the afternoon with two lovely new friends (who are also volunteers) talking to anyone and everyone about trafficking -- what it is, why it happens, and what they can do about it.  I must admit I've always been a bit intimidated by teenagers (even when I was one), probably for the very same reason that they are an excellent group to get involved in social justice issues.  Teenagers possess a level of energy, passion and commitment that few people retain into adulthood.  They believe things fervently and often act by jumping in with both feet.  Which is awesome.  A little daunting to an introvert (really, I am) like me, but awesome.  And these kids were no exception!  I'm sure I met quite a few soon to be abolitionists today and couldn't be more excited to be doing the work I'm doing here.  Thanks to all who have made and continue to make this possible!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

That's Why

These first few days in the UK are largely about settling in.  The two main contacts I have with Stop the Traffik are traveling this week, and while I have some independent abolitionist projects I'm attempting, my only official commitment this week is a brief awareness-raising deal on Thursday.  This is good because it gives me time to figure out my neighborhood, unpack, catch up on sleep, etc.  It's good AND bad because it gives me loads and loads of time to think.

One recurring thought (in part just because I'm explaining it to a whole new group of people) is why am I here?  Fear not, it's not in an existential crisis kind of way.  Just... why now?  Why this place?  And, particularly given the plethora of global crises from the AIDS epidemic to clean water initiatives to refugee care to choose from, why trafficking?

Well the why now part is pretty straight forward - I've had a lovely two year start at learning how I feel about working in churches (pretty fantastic), and wanted the opportunity to explore this other side of my call.  Why now?  Because the congregation I serve graciously afforded me the opportunity.  Because I had a brilliant crew of people basically handle fund-raising on my behalf.  Because I don't have a mortgage, spouse, kids, or even a dog and therefore am able to pick up and leave the country when I feel like it.

Why here?  Well, that was pretty much covered in an earlier post.  Here (London) had the best opportunities, seemed the best equipped to handle volunteers, and the lovely people seemed most enthusiastic about making use of my time and skills. 

But why trafficking?  That one's a little more complex.  I care passionately about a great many issues - those listed above and dozens more.  At the end of the day, I care about people.  My faith manifests in my determination that all people should be afforded basic human dignity (well, they should be afforded more than that, but let's start somewhere, shall we?).  It is also my belief that the use of a human being as slave labor, which often includes physical harm, torture, or rape alongside the severe psychological damage of being told they are worthless -- this is the gravest violation of basic human dignity.  It violates the humanity of the victim in obvious ways, but it also violates the humanity of those doing the trafficking.  They become something less than human as they strip someone else of their dignity and rights, and this dims the divine spark in both.  I believe we are called to radical humanization and radical love, and fighting trafficking through advocacy, legislation, rehabilitation, and reconciliation of the soul are my ways of (hopefully) expressing my experience of that call.   That's why.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


One of the great things about traveling internationally for anything longer than a quick holiday (look, I’m speaking British already!) is the sense of accomplishment – even in a country where there is no language barrier and the cultural differences are relatively minor.  Otherwise mundane tasks from your life near home become monumental occasions for celebration in a foreign land. 
Look!  I grocery shopped!  I have brought home food and will not, in fact, starve to death!  I figured out how to get a train ticket, get on the tube, and get to the opposite side of London!  And then wandered around with a massive bag and a happy/bedraggled/ sufficiently sympathetic look that strangers helped me carry my stuff up stairs and point me in the right direction!   None of these would be a big deal near Chicago, but when you’re far away from everyone who looks and feels like home, it matters that you feel whole, planted, and capable. 
All this to say that I have arrived!  The flight was smooth and thanks to the generosity of so many friends and strangers and family members, I am on my way to the work I so very much want to do.  I caught some strange looks for my in flight reading – trading off between Simon Pegg’s “Nerd Do Well” and “The Human Trafficking Assessment Tool” (the March 2009 Mexico edition), but strange looks aren’t foreign to me.
I’m living near a park and about a ten-minute walk from the nearest tube stop, so all should be well there.  Still meeting the various housemates and the set up is a quirky rehabbed warehouse, full of artists.  Post grocery shopping and a surprise visit with a dear Brit, it’s time to do some more reading, outline my plans for the first chapter of the anti-trafficking curriculum I’m writing, and sleep the jet lag away.

Thursday, June 30, 2011


My bags are nearly packed... by which I mean most of the clothing I own is scattered on the floor of my sister's old bedroom.  My apartment is emptied and cleaned (thank you moving team of excellence, family, friends, and relative strangers!).  My temporary goodbyes have mostly been said.  And I'm nearly ready to go.

This upcoming adventure to London, a place I love deeply, is daunting in that the mission ahead of me seems like a big one.  This seems like what call might feel like - when people you love and who love you back rally around you and send you forward with all kinds of emotional, spiritual and financial support to follow that which speaks directly to your heart.  Daunting, an honor, thrilling.

I'll miss you all tremendously.  But three months in a magnificent city, working with innovative and lovely people to help rid the world of modern slavery?  Apparently this is my life, but I find that hard to believe most days.  Who is this lucky and blessed?

I'll be posting here often to keep everyone apprised of my journeys (geographical and spiritual), so feel free to drop me a line and let me know how you are doing.

with love and moxie,

Laurie... Geronimo!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Cosmic Misery-Based Brownie Points

            And other weird ways of life...  I can’t quite discern whether this is a Midwestern thing, a church people thing, or maybe just a me thing (seriously doubting it’s the last one), but I get the distinct impression that a lot of us feel the need to justify our behavior and choices by citing how not-fully-happy we are with them.  As if it is somehow more socially acceptable to do what you feel is right for you as long as you’re not doing it to make yourself happy.  As if someone is keeping a cosmic tally of the points and you get more if you're miserable.
            Sometimes this gets taken so far that we look at people who are doing what they want to do in life and are happy and succeeding at it and we think… whoa.  What the heck.  That is NOT how it’s supposed to be!  When really, it is not their happiness we oppose, so much as our lack of courage to believe that God wants us to be happy too.
            Now I’m not advocating some kind of solipsistic, greed-based approach to life.  I’m operating under the assumption that, for most of us, we get at least some genuine pleasure out of making other peoples’ lives happier.  But I think it’s perfectly acceptable in the Christian paradigm to believe that sometimes following your call will ignite a powerful and joy-filled part of you… and it’s absolutely right to be happy about that.
            Food for thought, and an accompanying promise for more frequent posts soon.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Run with It

Sometimes plans change quickly, but so often what ends up happening is way better than anything I originally planned.  My recent vacation to London, Paris and Cape Town afforded me the opportunity to meet with several individuals active in the anti-trafficking movement.  In London, I met with London ACTS which is a part of the group Stop the Traffik.  They are working to intervene with trafficking through research, advocacy, legislation, work in schools, churches and with law enforcement, etc., specifically leading up to the London Olympics next summer (note - more on this in an upcoming post, but trafficking invariably gets worse at large international gatherings like the Olympics, the World Cup, etc.). 

I also had the opportunity to meet with the organization with whom I had planned to work in Cape Town and realized it was not a good fit.  Just a difference in approaches and a high potential that the safe house, which is more of a shelter than a rehabilitation program, will no longer be occupied in the next few months.  I'm really grateful for the opportunity to find out in person rather than guessing over the internet, and it was lovely to meet the people doing this work there.

So, in short, there is an alternative opportunity for me in London to work doing church engagement, and in all sorts of other components of abolitionist work.  I'm working hard to be a good steward of all the financial and emotional support I've received from so many friends, family, and strangers, and this option seems like the best opportunity to work against trafficking for this leave of absence.  I'm very excited about the chance to work with London ACTS and Stop the Traffik, and appreciate your continued prayers and support!  And maybe some sympathy towards my immediate family as they try to keep track of me...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I'm back!

Well hello friends, family, and the apparent strangers in Russia who stats claim read this little window into my brain.  I apologize for the absence, but I've been traveling!  Here's a rundown on some highlights from the last few weeks:

-       Just after celebrating Easter, I boarded a plane for London, one of my favorite places.  There were many, many wonderful things about seeing London again, including:  The Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Archives, rowing in Hyde Park, Hamlet at the Globe, catching the sights and chaos around the royal wedding, a trip up in the London Eye (thanks to new friends Martin and Phil), and getting to know the work and people with London ACTS (of Stop the Traffik fame)… in the middle of my London time, there was a daytrip to…

-       Paris!  It was my first visit to the City of Lights, and it was everything I hoped for and then some.  L’arc de triomphe, the Champs-Elysee, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, the Moulin Rouge, crepes, duck in xerxes sauce, wine, and crème brulee.  Also, catching up with one of the greats of Princeton Seminary, and missing the train back which led to new friends Ann, Claire and Nancy who saved me from sleeping on the floor of Gare du Nord.  People are amazing and true hospitality is beautiful thing!

-       After Paris and a few more days in London (including the Doctor Who exhibit, which made my inner nerd impossibly gleeful), I got on a plane for…

-       Cape Town!  It’s going to take some time to process the experience of my first trip to South Africa, but just a fraction of what I saw there…  the Victoria Waterfront, the Castle (including a great museum about the Cape Town equivalent of carnival), Stellenbosch (which is a beautiful wine country area and university town), a braai with the Reynolds family (oxtail and mulva pudding!), Kirstenbosch (the South African botanic garden which looks like it’s straight out of Jurassic Park … I kept waiting for raptors to pop out), Simonstown (where you can scrabble over boulders to get within a few short feet of lots and lots of penguins!), Robben Island (a terrifying boat ride, a chance to see Mandela’s jail cell, and to talk to former political prisoners), the Slave lodge museum (where slaves were kept by the Dutch East Trading Company), the natural history museum, and the company gardens.

Cape Town is a beautiful and heartbreaking place at the same time, and I’m grateful I had the opportunity to go and explore.  This trip was booked long before my upcoming leave of absence, and I’m so very glad.  Very, very thankful for a life of occasional globetrotting adventure!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are Kind of The Worst

            It’s an honor to get to share the pulpit with three other preachers, particularly preachers after whom I’ve modeled my style and approach to ministry.  The only downside of sharing a pulpit means we share the Big Days (although, sharing the responsibility is one of the things I love most about my job – I have no idea how anyone preaches every single week).
            So it was a really pleasant surprise to get offered the chance to preach on Maundy Thursday this year.  How exciting!  And really, I told myself back in early Lent, what a great chance to stretch myself in terms of style.  I am an upbeat, throw-in-jokes, keep it light and breezy preacher by default.  It’s going to be a great chance to write something serious and a bit dark and sit with that for a while.  Yeah!  Challenges!
            All well and good, until I actually tried to write the sermon for tonight.  Oof.  I know why my other sermons are vaguely similar in style – it’s because I am an Easter person.  Every draft I wrote of the Maundy Thursday sermon (including the final one), Easter kept sneaking in, no matter how focused and somber I tried to keep things.  I’m a believer in the empty tomb and a creature of hope, so the struggle has been to sit with the pain of Holy Week.  It hurts.  It’s profoundly uncomfortable to realize that you can’t accept a guy like Jesus into your life if you don’t accept the ugly part of the story as well.  You can’t get to resurrection without death.  And my job today is not what it usually is, which is to bring people the reminder to hope.  My job today is to face a darkened sanctuary of faces I love and know we grieve together. 
… Until Sunday anyway.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


            A nearly blank canvas rests on my easel, as it has for the last three weeks.  On it, a thin, crimson outline of a butterfly’s wings.  And numerous tentative sketch lines, all in pencil of course, all easily erasable should I change my mind.  Do I fill it in more fully?  Does it look quite right?  (I am absolutely no good at painting and paint only for my own joy, but I still occasionally slip into perfectionist territory).  Should I add details that take a butterfly out of the symbolic and into insect-ular reality?  Is this a butterfly that wants antennae and a body?  Or is it all smooth colors and merely a memory flashpoint to every other butterfly?  I pick up cerulean, slate grey, brilliant red, and nothing seems quite right … I can’t seem to settle on a specific path forward with this painting, so it remains for a bit, resting on the easel.  Sometimes this part of the process lasts just for days and sometimes weeks or longer. 
            Until one day it just happens.  It’s less of a conscious decision and more of a necessary capturing of an idea and a moment.  The canvas will catch my eye from across the room and, suddenly, nothing else will do but to finish the painting.  For better or for worse, I dive in and, a short, frenzied, paint-filled time later, it’s done.  It isn’t always beautiful, but that doesn’t really matter at that point.  It’s something of me on the canvas, and that’s both unnerving and exhilarating.
            There’s a lot of research being done on we millennials – our inability to commit to partners, jobs, raising families, long-term residences.  There are of course exceptions to this, and we all know people who are following the same patterns as our parents.  Your twenties were for finishing school, getting married, buying a home, starting a family, and starting your career.  Twenties, now, are increasingly for second degrees, travelling, moving back home with the parents, and trying on a thousand different plans and personalities.  Is it just the economy?  Are we a generation of commitment-phobes?  Or are at least some of us trying to sort out the mixed blessing of knowing all the possibility out there, having been raised to think we have the potential to do something extraordinary, and are now a bit immobilized by the choices?  And, particularly in the faith community, are we at once ecstatic about the possibility of having a calling in addition to a profession, and humbled into inaction by the gravitas of such a life? 
            The story and reasons are different for each of us.   As for me, I’m ready to paint.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Day of Nothing

 Inspired by a co-pastor of the church I serve, I chose yesterday as a good day to give up.  Kathy, a long-time inspiration and one of the main reasons I wanted to become a pastor in the first place, preached about letting go of all the things we “should” be doing as spiritual practices, and instead focus on genuinely being. 

My name is Laurie and I am a to-do-list-aholic.  It gets so bad that I occasionally write down things I wouldn’t dream of not doing, just to have more things to cross off the list.   “Brush teeth”. “Cook dinner”,  “Put gas in the car”.  Check, check, check  Yeah!!  …… Yikes.

 I relish the sense of achievement of a day running errands and getting things done.  At times, I feel like all the things I do and achieve and accomplish define me.  I’m not alone.  We’re an accomplishment-oriented culture.  But it certainly begs the question … who am I when I am not “doing” anything?

Yesterday, I “did” almost nothing.  I caught up with some friends.  I watched a movie.  I finally got around to reading Slaughterhouse Five, and definitely include that on the list of “books I cannot believe I got an English degree without anyone making me read”.  I made a laughable attempt at concocting my own pasta sauce out of whatever passed as food in my fridge.  I thought.  I prayed.  I refused to feel bad about all this nothingness.  It was awesome.

I did not run to the bank, grocery shop, write letters, catch up with phone calls and emails, write my next two sermons, prepare for going before Presbytery next week, or anything remotely strenuous or productive.  It was technically my half-day off, but normally I’d fill it just like that.  None of those things are particularly urgent.  They could all wait at least one more day.

Sabbath has morphed into a hurried, ridiculous, mad-dash to finish everything that doesn’t get done the rest of the week.  I sometimes feel like even my most treasured relationships get turned into to-do-list victims.  I’m now making a conscious effort to stop that.  To worry less about what I’ve done and focus more on who I am and who I will be.  Even if that means sometimes I do nothing at all.

(Thanks, Kathy!!)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Adventures! An Update

            I want to take a second to sincerely thank the people who have donated to my forthcoming leave of absence.  The generosity of friends and strangers alike always astounds me.  Things are off to a really good start at the fund-raising thanks to your kindness, and the whole project is starting to take on a beautiful life of its own.  Some very kind and generous friends in the congregation I serve are coordinating a dinner-dance fundraiser on April 16th, which is not only one of those rare excuses for me to bust out an old prom dress, but is also sending me into a nearly constant state of blushing at the support and sweetness of others.  You’re making this idea a functional reality, and your support leaves me, yet again, completely flustered by how amazing my life continues to be.  Thank you.
The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of emails, plan making, 96% ridiculous excitement, and about 4% sheer panic.  I’ve been getting insider tips on life in Cape Town (from people who’ve lived there), and continue to collect contacts on the ground.  I’m awaiting further details about my exact work there, but I’ll be sure to keep you up to date.
I’ve had a few of my friends push me to explain the “why” of this trip, which is a fair question.  I can see the validity of saying I should just write a check with those fundraising dollars and give it to the people doing this kind of work, instead of going and doing it myself.
The “why” is pretty simple.  I hear God calling.  Something about the nature of human trafficking pulls at my soul, and something tells me this is work for which I’ve been preparing for a long time.  It’s like walking down a path – not only not knowing where it’s going to end, but not even being fully aware that you’re moving.  But I’ve been moving for a long time.  Landing a chaplaincy internship in Pediatrics, getting trained as a rape crisis advocate, having the opportunity to learn from great mentors in pastoral care and response to crisis and trauma, having multiple opportunities to travel out of the U.S. and out of my comfort zone, and about a decade and a half of experience working with kids.  It all might have seemed a little haphazard on my way, but it all works in almost bizarre harmony in light of my desire to serve and care for kids who have been rescued from the sex trade.  I feel like I’ve been unwittingly preparing for this for a long time, and the only word I know for that is call. 
So this is a piece of my ministry I need to explore, and the congregation I serve is graciously encouraging me to do just that.  Who knows where it will lead me, but I know it’s a good idea to listen when God calls.  That whole Jonah thing, you know… ignoring God just doesn’t end well.
I’m glad to have you with me as I take these next few steps.  I am only able to do this – spiritually as well as financially – because of the love of others.  So thank you, again, always.  Let’s see what happens next!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Graceful Living

            My Dad taught (and still teaches) me that I should live my life such that it never becomes necessary to tell someone that I’m a Christian – they should know it by how I live.  The basic commandments on which everything else in the Bible is based – to love God and to love other people – those should be close to my heart, and made evident by how I treat people.  I don’t need to wear a cross, or proselytize to every person I meet.  I should just behave with grace.
            Most importantly, love should be evident in my actions.  Love is not just a way of thinking or talking about God, other people, life.  It is the manifestation of faith in giving people the benefit of the doubt and behaving with genuine grace toward people who I like, and people who drive me crazy.  Most especially people who drive me crazy, even people who cause pain to those I love.
            I think it’s likely my Dad picked this up from my Grandma, who is one of the most faith-filled ladies I know.  She doesn’t preach it, she lives it.  She’s good to people – all people.  It’s not that I’ve never seen her get mad or hurt, but I have never seen her behave gracelessly.  Many years back, her neighbor’s Akita got loose and attacked my grandma and her beloved 7 lb Pomeranian.  The Akita knocked my Grandma to her feet, causing her to break her wrist, and rendering her unable to help as the Akita mauled and killed her constant companion.  It was hideous.  I was relatively young at the time, but remember that as one of few times I’ve seen my Grandma cry.  The whole thing added acrimony to injury when her neighbors resisted helping to pay for my Grandma’s medical bills, causing the whole situation to go through court proceedings, and emotional fences were built thick and high. 
            Yet slowly, over years of tentative hello’s and a willingness to buy girl scout cookies from their kid and a grateful acceptance of help shoveling her driveway, my Grandma  and her neighbors rebuilt trust.  She treated her neighbors with grace.  It was a nasty, nasty situation and a lot of us would probably have taken that pain and anger to the grave.  My Grandma resolves that a life lived in grace is a life lived lighter, even when it’s difficult to get there.  Her willingness to move through pain and rebuild trust astounds me.
            I don’t get it right much of the time, but I think it’s a good aim to have.  How can I put my faith – in God, in people, in Love… which, really, are all the same thing – into action?  How can I live with grace for others and myself?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Collective Empathy

It’s taken me a few days to compose anything like a coherent thought about what’s going on in Japan.   Devastation like this hits us in ways that are hard to articulate.  It reminds us of how deeply connected we all are just by being human together.  We watch one another hurt and think of how it would hurt to be in that space, and voila – the blessing and curse of empathy.   The blessing is that we care about one another, and the curse is the same thing.  We are rendered helpless in the face of such massive pain, loss, fear, and anguish.  Every time we gasp in collective horror at something like this – at the earthquake in Haiti, at Katrina, and so forth – I remember that I am small and minimally capable of affecting real change in the world.  But then I remember that there are millions of people who feel the exact same way I do.  And we are more than the sum of our inadequate well-wishing.   We can help.

Give, pray, serve, learn, and hope.

Monday, March 14, 2011


 “I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.”
Abraham Lincoln

            The relationship between justice and mercy is a complicated one.  In some ways, they seem to work against each other, largely because we live in a world that defines justice in a very cowboy-esque, round up the bad guys kind of way.  Justice involves action – seeking, enacting, doling out.  Mercy is a bit more passive – it’s something we have, something we show.  And if we’re nothing else, we are people of action.
How do you encourage people to be merciful without encouraging people to be doormats?  Is it possible to find further strength in mercy, in the courage it takes to admit that you might be wrong?  I just spent the last few weeks trying to exegete (non-seminary / church friends, that basically just means reading the heck out of it and trying to understand what it means) Matthew 5:21-24.  Christ’s thoughts on anger.  And really, ouch.  The passage posits that a major priority of life is reconciliation with our brothers and sisters.  And, for most of the people I know, it’s pretty easy to think about forgiveness in terms of being the forgiver … less so when it comes to the need to be forgiven.   But this passage indicates that our human-to-human relationships matter a great deal, and that true reconciliation, grounded in a humble desire to forgive and to be forgiven, is the greatest gift we can give… to God and to ourselves.
I think that this form of justice first and foremost requires that we risk thinking we might be mistaken.  It means daring to sacrifice our very comfortable view of the world in the name of seeing things from another perspective, and willingly accepting that, just as others might need our forgiveness, surely we too need to be forgiven.  And therein, we all depend on the grace of mercy.

Friday, March 11, 2011


          My current, slightly anachronistic fixation is the show M*A*S*H, which is a sometimes funny and often poignant fictional snapshot of a medical unit near the frontlines during the Korean War.  The TV show was before my lifetime, as was the war it depicts, but there is a timeless quality to the way these men and women use comedy and romance to cope with the ugliest things humanity has to throw our way.  This show offers, for me, a unique insight into one interpretation of war, the painful futility of patching up men and women to go back to the front-lines, the struggle to value life in the face of the constant devastation and desecration of that life.

            I can’t say it better than Hawkeye shares in an episode from season 1.  He’s been cajoled into making a movie about life in a M*A*S*H unit by people enthusiastic to convey the high drama and heroics of life in a medical field unit.  While he treats most of it with his particular brand of ridiculous comedy, he concludes with the following assessment of a patient:

“Three hours ago, this man was in a battle. Two hours ago, we operated on him. He's got a 50-50 chance. We win some, we lose some. That's what it's all about. No promises. No guaranteed survival. No saints in surgical garb. Our willingness, our experience, our technique are not enough. Guns, and bombs, and anti-personnel mines have more power to take life than we have to preserve it. Not a very happy ending for a movie. But then, no war is a movie.”

            More than a little self-referential and dramatic for a TV show, but man, does that hit an important point.  We crave drama.  I’ve definitely cried at the videos of soldiers surprising their loved ones upon coming home.  And I’ve cried for the loss of lives, and the families who mourn the fallen. 

We have to resist turning the current wars, any wars, into something pretty and Hollywood-esque.  I am not debating the merits or motivations of war, or even the ethics of fighting them.  I am instead calling out our impulse to reduce what’s going on to pithy bumper stickers.  Though most of us only access what’s going in the world through the comfort of our computer screens and TV’s, what is going on out there – wars, revolutions, bombings, massacres -- is not for our entertainment.   It is a tragedy and an enormous loss of life, forever changing the lives of those left behind.  It warrants a conscientious reality check and genuine compassionate response instead of knee-jerk reactions to sound bites by politicians nowhere near the actual fighting.  These are human beings we’re talking about -- somebody's brother, sister, daughter, son, father, mother -- and they are all our brothers and sisters.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sharing the Good News

            Last night’s Ash Wednesday’s service was what Ash Wednesday services often are – difficult.  It's painful to remind ourselves with a physical gesture that (to borrow a charge) life is short, and we have very little time.  But time for what?
            The charge used at the congregation I serve and at the seminary I attended ends “time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us, so let us be swift to love, and make haste to be kind”.  I definitely dig that as a use of the short window of time I’ve got on this earth.
            My role in the service was primarily as liturgist, something more often filled by volunteers from the congregation.  I was really happy to get to fill it since the liturgist gets to do my favorite part of the service – the part that weaves its way subtly into everything we do in worship – an explicit declaration of forgiveness.  With our liturgy, we are called to worship, sing a hymn, confess as a community, and then one lucky person gets to stand in the pulpit and share the Good News.  And it’s pretty freaking awesome news.  Forgiveness!  Love!  Eternal!  For YOU!  Holy cow.
            I try to share it with the joy I feel, though I’m sure it sometimes come across like a kid telling about their favorite birthday present.  But so what?  It’s jubilation-worthy news, no doubt.
            As always, the question becomes one of practical application.  So we have this good news in our pockets, so what?  Well, as the charge suggests, we go out and live like we believe it.  Whoever you are, you’ve got some good news.  Whether Christian or not, you’re here, aren’t you?  You’ve got the ability to read and Internet access, which counts you amongst the lucky.  You’ve got a brain to fill with knowledge and understanding.  You’ve got people who love you.  You’ve got the opportunity to share compassion and community with others, to love people, and to be loved.  You could call it the opportunity of a lifetime.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Only / Fully Human

            Ash Wednesday arriveth and with it, my annual struggle with Lent.  I’ve long resisted the idea that we are meant to give something up for those 40 days, as if me avoiding cookies is somehow a gesture sufficiently dramatic to call up the crucifixion regularly.  Right.  It just doesn’t make much sense to me as a symbol, particularly when people make a huge deal out of what they’re giving up.  If that helps you as a Lenten practice, then good for you, it just hasn’t worked for me.
            What has worked (to a greater or lesser degree) is the addition of practices that I think are good for me and bring me closer to the life God would have me lead.
 The problem is, I usually want to do everything.  I want to be fully alive and am always adding new things to my repertoire, which means that Lent, a ready-made window for new habits, is sort of a self-improvement-junkie’s worst enemy.  I have to quiet down the voices that say – I will add all the skills!  I’ll re-learn French and spend more time learning guitar!  I’ll get back to running every day and write and read new novels and hand-write notes to friends and family!  And I’ll cook from scratch and drink only water and, while I’m at it, I’ll save the world!  Oh… right… that last part’s not my job.
So this Lent, I will probably try to do a great many things better than I usually do, in the hopes that at least some new good habits will stick.  But bigger than that, I will try to be quieter in my soul.   I will remember that I am only human, and that, if Christ is the fullest of humanity a person can be, being “only human” is pretty fantastic.
Wishing you a peaceful, thoughtful start of Lent.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A New Adventure or A Chance to Bless the Rains Down in Africa

There are currently more than 27 million slaves in this world.  Every day while you and I check email and facebook, drive to work, listen to our iPods, share meals with family and friends, there are people living with a horrific reality.   They are of both genders, all ages and races, and are subject to abuses most of us cannot even imagine.  Many of them are children bought and sold for cheap, used for labor, as servants or factory workers, and in many cases, for prostitution.  These are children who need love and compassion.

I have been given a tremendous gift.  In order to pursue a call I feel to serve victims of human trafficking, I have been offered an unpaid three-month leave of absence starting this July.  I will be going to Cape Town, South Africa and serving with some hard-working existing organizations, largely participating in aftercare for children rescued from slavery.

There are dozens of people who would sacrifice tremendously to protect me from such a fate as slavery.  The same is probably true of you.  We are lucky and should count our blessings.  And then we should do what we can to help. 

I am going because I feel called to this ministry and I am asking for your support – your prayers, your good wishes, and a donation if you are able to help out.  Have a contact in Cape Town?  Let me know!  Feeling over-burdened with too many frequent flier miles?  I can help!  Any financial gifts would be hugely helpful, and any amount I raise over what I need for the trip will go to further mission work, specifically in helping abolitionist efforts (see the Donate button at the top of the page).  Any amount, no matter how small, can help make this opportunity a reality.  Please consider sending this page on to anyone you know that might be interested.

I’ll be updating here regularly as I make preparations for this adventure and as I travel.  Looking forward to your company as I go!

With love,

Monday, February 7, 2011

Music and Theology

I’m just going to put this out there … praise music is almost never my scene.  I love God and I love music, and I even love worship, but music tends to provoke a lot of analysis from me.  Maybe it’s somewhere between being an English major and seminary training, but my impulse to dismantle the lyrics for both beauty and solid theology can be distracting for me.  And while some praise music is right on in both departments (and strong musically), a lot of it seems to fall short.  Some of it just doesn't speak to me, and that's just a matter of taste, but some if it is just sloppy theologically and if you're going to walk away from tradition, I tend to think it should be with an eye on improvement.
I help wrangle a youth group of middle school children who went on a retreat recently, and they chose to sing the song “Sanctuary” for the talent show.  It’s a gorgeous song, musically and lyrically, and the kids sing it with beauty and heart.  I was, as usual, incredibly proud of their bravery and enthusiasm.  However, it broke my heart a little to hear one of them say to another “Yeah, I really like that song, but I have no idea what it means”.
Wow.  This song of such weighty promises (Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary… I’ll be a living sanctuary for you) and bold love is heart-warming to hear, but I think we owe it to our kids to dive into the meaning behind it, and to pose those questions to one another.  It didn’t even occur to me that they didn’t know what they were singing, but how often do we impose that kind of analysis on our own worship?  What do we mean when we promise to be a sanctuary for one another?  How do we live it?
And it’s certainly not just the kids.  How often do we get up and sing a song in church and not give a second thought to the words we’re saying?  “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the one I love… Bind my wandering heart to thee”.  “I will go, Lord, if you lead me, I will hold your people in my heart”.  “How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see”.
I do like the idea toward which praise music is inclined.  Traditional hymns just don’t connect with a lot of people today or, worse, they re-open old wounds for people hurt by the church in the past.  If church was the place your parents forced you to go, or where you felt judged, hated, or any other negative emotion, it’s understandable that you wouldn’t feel overwhelmed with joy at glorifying God with songs that take you right back to those memories.
Fortunately, God is bigger than any one worship style.  Whew.
As is my usual, I am intrigued by secret option C, the re-appropriation of secular music for worship purposes.  It does not work for every congregation or service, and it certainly doesn’t work for every song, but a few years back a good friend introduced me to the BBC’s Manchester Passion play.  It took place live, all over the city of Manchester, with a talented group of singers and actors co-opting contemporary Mancunian music to tell the story of Christ’s last days.  Parts of it are ridiculously cheesy, but for the most part, it’s a powerful re-telling.  Hearing Christ sing The Stone Roses’ “I am the Resurrection”, Judas lamenting with The Smith’s “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”, or Pilate and Christ singing “Wonderwall” to one another are each slightly surreal experiences but they do some remarkable work.  They make these characters rise up from dusty pages and transform into human beings, a much shorter distance from our selves.  “And maybe… you’re going to be the one that saves me.”  After all.
Expect a few more Florence + the Machine-esque entries from this girl, as I appear to be a bit fixated on that idea right now.
Any style that works for you, I ask that you join me in a commitment to thinking.  Faith is not meant to take the place of your brain.  In theory at least, they should work together.  Think about lyrics before you sing them, prayers before you repeat them, Scripture as you read and hear it, and the words you trade with people you love.  Communicate deliberately – with others, with your own heart, and with God.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Slaying Dragons

The summer I spent as pediatrics hospital chaplain was one of the most transformative few months of my life.  I learned that it really is impossible to fall asleep in the on-call room.   I learned to have even more respect for nurses, doctors, and the whole network of people it takes to keep a hospital moving.  I learned to not take it personally if families took one look at me in my navy blue chaplains’ lab coat and reacted like the grim reaper just walked in the room.  I learned how to be present in times of crisis, what not to say in times of loss, and how to trust myself.  All the training in the world doesn’t really prepare you for what you’ll feel when the pager goes off at 3 am to let you know that someone is near death and you need to go be with the family, or worse, make the call to get the family to the hospital.  The skills are definitely good as back up, but for me at least, this was when I learned what I was made of as a hopeful-pastor-to-be.
As a part of that journey we (the seven other interns and I, along with three residents and a host of staff chaplains) explored the different gifts and hang-ups we each brought to the ministry table.  One particular staff chaplain, a man from New Zealand with one of the best accents and best mustaches I have ever seen, warned us from the outset that chaplaincy was a place where we might slay some of our dragons.
I think this is fantastic imagery.  We each have gifts for ministry (whether that looks like ministry in a church, hospital, or a job that, on the surface, seems to have nothing at all to do with God).  Each of us serves in our relationships with family, friends, and colleagues.  And, with a little self-esteem and a little encouragement from others, most of us can name at least a few of our gifts.
But confronting our dragons… that’s a much more intimidating idea.  What do I bring to the table that might hinder my ability to creatively and compassionately care for others?  What are the things in my past and the traits I carry that I need to face head on and challenge myself to overcome, with God’s help?
Chaplaincy was a great opportunity to face down some of my own dragons – feeling unequal to the task, wondering if I lacked the authority to do this well, being too racked with worry to trust myself.  Those dragons weren’t all destroyed that summer, but they all got named and examined.  I like to think I took a good run at more than a few.
May we each step out to serve others a little bit braver, a little bit bolder, and a little more honest about who we really are as ministers and as children of God.  Dragons, be ye warned.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


It’s been pointed out to me by more than one person (and each knows well my linguistic quirks) that I have the idiosyncrasy of asking friends to “remember when”… when the subject is whatever is currently happening.  “Remember that time we got massively lost on the way to the museum?  Wasn’t that hilarious?” as we tap furiously at a lagging GPS device.  “Remember that time we got to wait in line forever at the grocery store and got home and realized we forgot one of the shopping bags?”, seconds after we’ve walked in the door.  I’m pretty certain this started as most things I repeat too often start – an awkward attempt to bring humor to an otherwise irritating situation.  Playing with time is funny to me.  Meta-living is amusing.  And staying frustrated with a situation is a lot harder to do when you’ve already jumped out of it.
But it’s recently struck me that there might be more at work in this quirk of speech.  I enjoy jumping ahead to the part where we laugh about things later, and while there is merit to refusing to settle in discontent, it is also a product of the Jump Ahead Generation.  I am part of a culture that can – and does – take photos for the express purpose of making them Facebook profile pictures.  In the moment when something funny is said, conversation will turn to making it a status, a tweet, a pithy marker of time and a notice to the world that We Are Having Fun!!  Right?  Aren’t we?  Look how much fun we’re having! 
I am not down on the marvels of technology – that would be a pretty spectacular level of hypocrisy for someone as email, Iphone, and Facebook dependent as I am.  I’ve started a blog for Pete’s sake.  I’m as plugged in as the next kid.  I just believe that our levels of hyper-connectivity are dangerous for true communication and that it's going to take deliberate effort to provide balance.
It is in part because we have so much space to fill now.  In a time where telegrams came by the letter, planning what you were going to say was crucial.  Thoughtful exchanges were really the product of necessity.  Now, no one is asking that we think.  Just that we shout.  Be funny, be loud, be cruel, be beautiful, be dangerous, just be it in the most knee-jerk extreme way possible and your voice might catch someone’s ear above the din.  It might catch someone’s eye as they scroll through their newsfeed for the eighteenth time that day.  Substance ranks well below style and volume today, and that’s a perilous game.
Yet something about this gives me hope … maybe it’s the fact that we’re all still interested in communicating at all, no matter how weird things get.  We still write and create and put ourselves out there (albeit with new levels of anonymity and proliferation at our fingertips) because we are as human as ever – we want to understand and we’re dying to be understood.  The circumstances keep changing but, on a fundamental level, we don’t.  And for that, I am grateful
Perhaps, then, this particular entry is just a reminder to myself to really Be wherever I am … to remember to exist for the space and time and people around me, instead of the what-might-be ahead.  Just to Be Here.  Now.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Theology and Florence + the Machine

In order to achieve Laurie’s Current Favorite Song status (and we can get into the temporary nature of almost all my favorite things another day), a song must pass the car test:  when listening to it in my car, do I have an absolute compulsion to turn it up loud, sing at the top of my lungs, and dance with sufficient fervor to catch the eyes of neighboring drivers?  Enough that they laugh?  And sometimes join in on the dancing?  Done and done for Florence + the Machine’s “Dog Days”.  And now this particular indie-pop-tastic piece is achieving the “always stuck in my head” status as well (apologies if I’m now helping it do the same to you) because it is catchy as all get out, and because I find a piece of it oddly theologically compelling.  Occupational hazard.

This one passage catches my ear and voice every time, but when I went to confirm lyrics there were dozens of permutations.  Everyone seems to hear this section differently.  The one that comes closest to what I hear is this:

Run fast for your mother, run fast for your father,
Run for your children and your sisters and brothers
Leave all you love and your loving behind,
You can’t carry it with you if you want to survive.

Various other arrangements are closer to: “Leave all your love and your longing behind” or some variation thereof, but this one is the one I like best.  And maybe it is a mark of a decent song (or just poor enunciation) that people can hear so many different things in one piece.
Anyhow, I've been puzzling out the nature of call with a few trusted friends lately and it strikes me that sometimes call and traditional family life might be mutually exclusive.  Not always.  Often God calls people to do things with their family as an important piece of the puzzle, and that’s great.  Sometimes raising a family IS the call, and an incredibly challenging one at that.  And I’m not suggesting anyone abandon their loved ones.  But if I were to theologically exegete dear Ms. + the Machine, I’d suggest that you run for your call – that pursuing that which is closest to your identity, to who God created you to be, that is survival on a spiritual level.  Pick up your mat and follow Him. What if we looked at true Calling not as something we have the option of following, but instead the key to a thriving existence… as much necessity as food and water?  And while it might mean leaving behind all that you love for a spell (or longer … that Holy Spirit is wily), perhaps it really is for the good of those you love and for the best for you to refuse the confines of security as priority one, and instead honor your call.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Beginning

The first blog entry.  I’ve resisted the temptation for years – it all seems a bit silly to me – yet I find myself in the incredibly lucky position of having a job that stokes both my creativity and my desire to share ideas with other people.  Community is an idea I value greatly so herein lies one more way to connect with the ideas and understandings of others – to risk my own ideas and invite others to do the same.  Sort of like a spiritual first date.  There’s a danger in putting your own ideas to paper even when you don’t share them with the world.  They stop being ideas, come down from the ether, and become part of your own very small history.  But the human experience is meant to be shared, so here we go.
 I wanted to call this thing the Irreverent Rev, as I’m a candidate in the PC (USA) church and hope to be ordained (and because I don’t take myself or much else too seriously), but this seemed like a better fit.  The nature of the butterfly has always fascinated me – so beautiful, so short-lived, strong, light, and free -- but what really tipped me to being a true lepidopterist is the last book I read before deciding to go to seminary:  In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez.  In it, the image of the butterfly becomes a symbol for the peril and grace involved in any great revolution – spiritual, political, personal or public.  The book is historical fiction about four sisters leading an increasingly dangerous revolution and their codename – la mariposa – the butterfly – becomes the speak-able acknowledgment of the danger and over-simplified perception of the beauty of those who would risk everything for what they believe is right.  The world loves a revolutionary, but most of us would rather take in a revolution from afar.
And yet, faith is a risk.  Pursuing call on a deep and honest level means taking great chances.  It is dangerous, but it is also a thing of incredible beauty.
Viva la mariposa!