Archive for November, 2009

November 29, 2009

No Christmas Carols?

On November 29th, we began together a very special time of the year: Advent! In the traditions of the church year, we celebrate the coming of Christ more than just a day, but as an intentional process. It’s so intentional that we take four Sundays to prepare for it. We light one candle each Sunday as we go.

As we prepare, we do things that many seem a bit out of step with our culture.

We don’t read the Christmas story all month-long. We don’t promote consumerism. We wait until Christmas Eve to sing Christmas songs.

And as we do these things, we talk about uncluttering our lives just a little. We read texts that help us understand more about what it means to wait and know what Christ’s presence will look like when he comes. And, we sing hymns about this process of hoping, preparing and most importantly waiting.

It is difficult to restrain our joy because yes, Jesus was born a long time ago and we know we can celebrate his birth any time of the year. And, though it seems that Advent would be a great time to go at the pace of everybody else and sing the beloved “Jesus is born” hymns, we restrain ourselves.

We do so because we believe that this is Advent’s gift to us: patience in our waiting, peace in our hoping, and joy in our love that finds its true home. And, we believe that if we just hurried ahead and celebrated Christmas now, that we would miss out on what this journey has to teach us.

So, my Washington Plaza friends, if you miss your dose of Christmas carols for the next three weeks, keep with me. We’ll have plenty of time to sing them on Christmas Eve and in the season of Christmastide that follows.

There just is something character shaping singing “O Come O Come Emmanuel” in the meantime as we light the candles and wait.

November 27, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

It is a Thanksgiving tradition since 1987 in the gatherings of my mom’s family to read the Dear Abby column before we eat our Thanksgiving meal among many other traditions.We read it this evening and I thought I would share it again here.

Here’s to wishing you a great Thanksgiving and a wonderful weekend (hopefully) off of work and enjoying family and friends.

DEAR READERS: By popular demand, here is my traditional Thanksgiving column:

Today is Thanksgiving Day, so take a few minutes to reflect upon all the things for which you are thankful.

How’s your health? Not so good? Well, thank God you’ve lived this long. A lot of people haven’t. You’re hurting? Thousands — maybe millions — are hurting even more. (Have you ever visited a veterans hospital? Or a rehabilitation clinic for crippled children?)

If you awakened this morning and were able to hear the birds sing, use your vocal cords to utter human sounds, walk to the breakfast table on two good legs, and read the newspaper with two good eyes, praise the Lord! A lot of people couldn’t.

How’s your pocketbook? Thin? Well, most of the world is a lot poorer. No pensions. No welfare. No food stamps. No Social Security. In fact, one-third of the people in the world will go to bed hungry tonight.

Are you lonely? The way to have a friend is to be one. If nobody calls you, pick up the phone and call someone.

Are you concerned about your country’s future? Hooray! Our system has been saved by such concern. Your country may not be a rose garden, but neither is it a patch of weeds.

Freedom rings! Look and listen. You can still worship at the church of your choice, cast a secret ballot, and even criticize your government without fearing a knock on the head or a knock on the door at midnight. And if you want to live under a different system, you are free to go. There are no walls or fences — nothing to keep you here.

As a final thought, I’ll repeat my Thanksgiving prayer; perhaps you will want to use it at your table today:O heavenly Father:

We thank thee for food and remember the hungry.

We thank thee for health and remember the sick.

We thank thee for friends and remember the friendless.

We thank thee for freedom and remember the enslaved.

May these remembrances stir us to service

That thy gifts to us may be used for others. Amen.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and may God bless you and yours. — LOVE, ABBY

November 23, 2009

Our Multicultural Experience

I admit it, “multicultural” is one of my favorite words. I use it a lot, especially when people ask me to describe Washington Plaza.

I also think it is one of America’s favorite words. It is a buzz word that everyone wants to use. When I was training to be a teacher while in undergrad, I had to take a “multicultural education” class. While in seminary, several units of study had “multicultural” units. I even took a class called “Pastoral Care in Multicultural Settings.”

But, do we really know what it means? Just because we say we have a “multicultural school” or “multicultural community” or even “multicultural church” does it mean that we are actually multicultural?

The more I journey alongside what I think is my “multicultural church” the  more I realize I’m not sure we have grasped the concept quite yet and have MUCH to learn.

But on Sunday, Washington Plaza along with Iglesia Mission Cristina took one big leap into trying to understand it better. As part of our Thanksgiving worship service, we came together, two churches that use the same building each week for worship. Rev. Gallo, the pastor of Mission Cristiana spoke and I shared a few words too. Our choir sang and their praise team led two songs. We sang together well-known hymns in such as “How Great Thou Art” in English and Spanish. And we concluded our service with an observance of communion, the Christian meal of thanksgiving and unity.

I have to say I went into the service yesterday more nervous than if I was preaching a full length controversal sermon.  I was almost a bit panicked when I woke up on Sunday morning.

Would the service start on time? If not, would our congregation get restless?

Would the service flow with all the unique elements within?

How would the different practice of communion go over?

How would the translation affect the rhythm of the service?

And, though the worship service ended up being a beautiful experience of God’s diversity as found here in the Reston community, getting there was not a walk in the park. There was messiness in the process.

But, there was a lot of understanding along the way with much laughter (especially as the translators looked to find the best words on the spot, thank you Victor and Damaris). And, there was much joy in our eating together after the service. I believe our congregations on Sunday as we found much hope in what our being together meant for our Christian witness.

And, in reflection of  Sunday, I realized that this is exactly what multiculturalism is all about. Yes, there will be moments of disorder. Yes, there will be moments of panic (especially from this have all your ducks in a row kind of pastor). Yes, there will be times when we just don’t understand one another.

Yet, our being together says something important on its own. In our being together, God was present in all of our cultures and this was and is the best gift indeed. We can’t wait to worship together again. We already have ideas about how we can be more welcoming to our Hispanic friends the next time . . .

November 23, 2009

It’s No Small Thing

An important part of my pastoral philosophy centers on celebration. When something good happens, no matter how small it seems, it needs to be recognized and enjoyed.

Such moments encourage me to keep going knowing that we’re on a good path. I hope they do the same for you.

Here are some of our recent celebrations:

Our CHOIR is growing and provides such inspiration to our worship services and community life. They’ve recently added a bench to their seating area to accomodate the new members. And, have enough women to have a whole 2nd soprano section. We are all looking forward to their Christmas Concert on Saturday, December 6th at 6:30 pm. (Here’s a scene from a small group rehearsal yesterday after church).

We also have NEW sign outside our building. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of our Outreach team and the approval of the Reston Design Review Board, it was installed last week. We’re so glad to have our logo on it in color and extra lines for text, so that more information can be shared with the community about our activities and services. And, special thanks to Mary Mass for being our faithful sign changer!

And, lastly, I’m very excited about the efforts of folks to take greater ownership of the beauty of our  building both inside and out. We had a wonderful church workday on Saturday to clean-up the backyard area with several new members attending. The walkways and side yard that were covered in leaves now looks great!

And, we’ve had a group of ladies doing some re-design to the walls inside the church too. Be watching for the completion of the “historic hall” on the 3rd floor containing  more framed pictures and art to tell the story of the church’s beginnings. On the main level, we resurrected this beautiful sign (that none of us knew existed) from the backside of a closet. It now hangs in the entry way. The hope is that our foyer is as welcoming and inviting as we are as a church.

Stay tuned for more celebrations. As always, with God’s power working in us, God will do in and through us more than we could ever ask for or imagine.

November 21, 2009

Oh the Things People Say . . .

I’m sure I could re-publish this blog once every six months or so because the things people say to me when they learn I”m a pastor just gets better and better. These are some of my most recent personal favorites.

When meeting a Muslim man who was interested in speaking about his book at our church: “Wow, are you some new breed of pastors or something? I mean, you look so young and professional! Do most pastors dress like you now? And your handbag and your shoes, I like them. I didn’t know that pastors could now wear stylish things.”

When meeting an Asian couple who were humanitarian workers visiting the U.S.: “So, your husband is not a pastor? What?? How can that be? And, no, you don’t have children? How can you be a pastor who doesn’t have children? We need to pray for you right now!”

When meeting the man who ran my copies for church at Office Depot: “You’re a pastor, really? Didn’t know they made them so young? Is your church more fun?”

When getting my nails done, the female nail tech said: “So being such a young female pastor does this mean that your church has a high percentage of male attendees, especially the young ones?”

Yes, I guess I am a part of “some new breed of pastors.”

No, my husband is not a pastor. He has a perfect job for his interests and passions and I’m lucky he’s so supportive of what I do.

No, I do not believe that my relationship or childbearing status has nothing to do with whether or not I am a good pastor or not.

And, finally, no, there hasn’t been a rise of “young males” attending our church since I came. If anything there are more of all kinds of people, gay, straight, young, old, married, partnered, divorced, etc who come to Washington Plaza– all people whom God is calling back to be a part of such a loving and Christ-centered fellowship.

I’ll continue to be me with no apologies. I know that this is exactly what my church needs, even if bystanders on the side are slightly confused about what is going on at our wonderful little congregation with a female name after the “Rev.”

November 17, 2009


Right after college, I had one huge life-altering experience. I’m not sure I set out to have it, but it found me nonetheless.

Instead of going straight to graduate school or working in part of town where the I would be on a lifetime career path, I choose to use my education degree in a title 1 school smack dab in the middle of the city of Birmingham, Alabama. They were handing out teaching assignments there like cheap trading cards, so my 22-year-old self was an easy in.

An experience on how segregation, poverty, and hopelessness still reign in the inner city could barely describe the semester I spent teaching 5th grade.

Every one of my 30+ students was on free lunch.

Few students had parents or grandparents who ever read the notes I sent home or checked their children’s homework.

Most read below grade level yet continued to pass through the system without any concern from the school administration for how wrong it was.

And, the beat of poverty went on . . .

But, with all of this in my background, I didn’t expect to be shocked when I viewed the film, Precious: Based on the Novel by Sapphire this weekend. 

But, I was.

Here’s the basic plot if you haven’t seen it:

In 1987, obese, illiterate 16-year-old Claireece “Precious” Jones  lives in the New York City neighborhood of Harlem with her dysfunctional family; she has been impregnated twice by her father, Carl, and suffers constant physical and mental abuse from her unemployed mother, Mary. The family resides in a Section 8 tenement and subsists on welfare. After a visit from her high school principal, Mrs. Lichtenstein, Precious is invited to an alternative school where she hopes that her life can change direction.

Thus, the content of this film is not for the faint at heart. The story is intense, often painful to keep your eyes open, and provided such a heavy message of how despair and poverty go hand in hand.

Yet, the shock came for me after the film was over. Kevin and I were talking about what we thought about it on the car ride home. We had been warned by a friend to watch with caution.

And, still we had glazed looking eyes.

Kevin said: “It was too much to take in. I’m not sure what I thought about it.”

For me, I was bothered more and more as there was no huge moment of redemption as seen in Precious’ life. Yes, there were individuals who cared and how made major contributions, but what she needed, she never got: someone to take her in and not let her go. To break the cycle of poverty and poor education, she needed a larger than life figure in her life to make an extraordinary contribution. Why? Because Precious’ experience in life had been completely to the other extreme that nothing less than an extraordinary hand-up would do.

I was moved to think about how few extraordinary people are in the world. And how much our society, with all of its problems, needs ordinary people to rise up! We need ordinary people to fulfill a great purpose by embodying LOVE for those who define what the word need means.

I was also shocked by the honesty related by Precious’ mother to her at the end of the film. Thinking that if her mom  had been given the tools earlier on in life to talk about her feelings and work toward wholeness, then possibly some of the horrible things would not have happened to Precious.

Because when you are in cycles of poverty and abuse, there simply just isn’t time to think of much else. As much as I value the reflective spaces of my life, I was shocked in remembering that such is not a privilege all have. It is a gift I have been given as part of the world that “has.”

I still think about those 30+ former 5th graders in Birmingham. I wonder how they are doing in high school now. I wonder which ones have dropped out. I wonder about which of the girls are pregnant. I wonder if any of them will go to college. I wonder if my semester with them made any difference at all.

Though the story of Precious hit close to home, I realized yet again, it did not hit close enough.

My time in the inner city of Birmingham feels like a long faint memory now. And as much as I try to hold it close, films like Precious remind me there is much extraordinary work to be done. There is more remembering to do in my new hometown. And so many blessings that you and I need to rise up and begin to share.

Check out Precious. And, when/ if you do, be prepared. It might just stir you a little harder than you are ready for. . .

November 12, 2009

The Shack Anyone?

the-shackOn Tuesday night, I had the opportunity to meet with the women’s group as I do from time to time. I was invited to lead the discussion of their recent book club selection, The Shack bringing out theological themes for conversation.

I agreed to this task with some anxiety, though because of my fear of popular books. It seems that once a book has hit the NY Times Bestseller list as The Shack has, it seems to take on a life of its own. In my opinion, this “life” a book takes on often comes in unhelpful ways.  Because it seems, the more a book seeks to speak for Christianity, the more damage it can do in oversimplifying faith.  (As if 40 days of The Purpose Driven Life is all you need or following Osteen’s Live Your Best Life Now will make you happy). So, I stayed away from this “fad” book as I have done many time before with similar texts.

But, now as a pastor of an entire congregation I feel more responsiblity to care about things and come to understand things that are meaningful to my people.  When several persons described to me life-changing moments with this book and then the women’s group wanted to study it, I broken down and purchased my own copy.

My experience with the book was surprising.

I was inspired as I learned more about the difficulties the author went through just to get the book published. Understanding that this text was rejected for print by several mainstream Christian publishers, I was more interested to read.

And, though William P.Young is not the most eloquent of an author and will not win any literary rewards for his writing style and the story line was “cheesy” at many points, I did celebrate how accessable he made the doctrine of the trinity. With Trinity Sunday every year being one of the most confusing observances for us to understand, after reading The Shack, I think we’ll think differently about it next year.

 The Genesis 1 passage, “Let us make man in our own image” that I’ve often preached on Trinity Sunday showing “community” within the life of God now might make more sense to those with an experience with The Shack. Young does a great time showing God as  relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that is beautiful, pure and perfectly intertwined as one God.

One member of our discussion on Tuesday night was bothered by how “human” God was made to be in this book. I totally understand her concern and applaud her desire to keep God as God and not just like us (as God is not). But, ultimately I think Young did the best he could to “humanize God” so that we could understand better and to remind readers at the same time that the personification of God to Mack (the main character) in The Shack was only for a period of time.

One of my favorite parts of the book (which I know evangelical Christians have the hardest time with) was this passage where Jesus is speaking to Mack in conversation:

Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhist or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institution. I have followers who were murders and many who were self-righteous. Some are bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved. 

I was not bothered by the “anti- institution” language in the book (though I still want to call myself a Christian) because I think it speaks to a great longing in our culture right now to be spiritual but not religious.

To be spiritual, is not anti-church. One of the best ways that a person can develop their own spiritual life comes in the setting of a loving faith community. People have been hurt deeply by religion (especially extreme religious expression) but yet have often held on a desire to connect with God and be a spiritually centered person. I see why Young was placing the emphasis on relationship rather than religious committment– this is what so many miss from an experience from a traditional church. 

The openness of Young’s book to spiritual exploration and connection with God is something I celebrate! Just I would add to those on the search, I hope they can find a place of spiritual home to help them on their path.

I can’t say it enough, as I mentioned it again at the women’s group this week, how happy I am to be a part of a community of faith I am so proud of in Washington Plaza, not your traditional church.  A community that takes seriously the theological wrestling found within a book like The Shack and takes them up in weekly Bible Study classes and spiritual formation groups– where God can be experienced in tangible ways every week.

In the end of our discussion, I think this is one of the strongest points that we came back to. No, we aren’t disciples of a popular book. But, we are people living in community together, hoping to experience a little more of our Triune God as we commit to the Christian path together.

November 8, 2009

When Someone Listens to You

Within the sermon today, I shared this beautiful poem about the gift a listening friend can be in our lives. I thought I’d share it again here. Cheers to all the friendships that surround your lives and mine! 

Finding What You Didn’t Lose by John Fox

When someone deeply listens to you

it is like holding out a dented cup

you’ve held since childhood and watching it fill up with

cold, fresh water

When it balances on top of the brim,

you are understood.

When it overflows and touches your skin,

you are loved.

When someone deeply listens to you,

the room where you stay

starts a new life

and the place where you wrote

your first poem

begins to glow in your mind’s eye.

It is as if gold has been discovered!

When someone deeply listens to you,

your bare feet are on the earth

and a beloved land that seems distant

is now at home within you.

November 6, 2009

Abiding Friendships

For the next two Sundays, I’ll be preaching about the story of Ruth taken from the lectionary readings this month. On Sunday, we’ll be examining Ruth 1:1-18. I am completely jazzed about this sermon because of one of the themes I see emerging from the text: abiding friendship.

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.

Friendship is a topic dear to me. I thrive on relationships and seek to pastor in a relationship driven way. And, Washington Plaza is full of many who feel this same way, I believe.

But, I think friendship is often a topic we talk so little about in life in general and in the church either. When is the last time you heard of a church doing a study on friendship or a sermon series on friendship? Why not?

This week, I’m seeking to take up the challenge. Ruth%20&%20Naomi%202

While attending a Transitions into Ministry conference last spring in Indianapolis, I was a part of  break out session about friendship and the pastoral life. Much of our conversation centered around the fact that we all struggle with how to be a good friend in the midst of our schedules, life commitments, and interpersonal dynamics that can get a little crazy sometimes.  But, that friendships are the life of what will sustain our vocations long-term.

One of my favorite passages on friendship comes from Natalie Goldberg’s book on writing called Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life. In a chapter, she describes her coming to confidence about actually being a writer through a particular friendship saying:

“It is not about them saying yes or no; it is about encouragement and friendship. And it is about something deep and unspoken. When I was with Jim, I quietly vowed to continue, to carry on with this great thing we both loved. I didn’t stand there digging the big toe out of my right foot into the dirt and say ‘Gosh, Jim, well do you think even dumb old me can write?’ It’s more like you stand shoulder to shoulder, looking out at the vista, and the old writer points and says, ‘See,’ and you nod and smile knowing that the vista is good and sweet and you always want it in front of you.”

Abiding friendships are about common interests, yes.

There are about mentoring sometimes, yes.

But ultimately, they are about the seeing that special spark in the other that they don’t see in themselves.  And, out of love saying that there is nothing more you want to do than stick around to see his or her life through (and visa versa).

“Wherever you go, I will go.”

I need to be challenged to be this kind of friend and I’m hoping you’ll be up for it too. Looking forward to Sunday!

(And, FYI to the left is a picture of  Ruth and Naomi, bronze sculpture by Naomi Spiers).

November 3, 2009

The Wonder

Out West Adventures- October 09 898O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. . . . . When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? . . . .  O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Out West Adventures- October 09 888

This was a psalm that I had on my mind all week as Kevin and I traveled through the Nevada and Arizona desert.

We were blessed to see so much of beauty in its most natural form that neither of us had experienced before.

I am now in love with the Grand Canyon and Sedona, AZ. I just couldn’t get enough of this region and am actually sad to be back in the confines of the city again. (When can we go back?)  

The following pictures are some of our snapshots of the wonder throughout our travels. We felt like we were living in a land of postcards. Maybe you could can see why . . .

Out West Adventures- October 09 855

Out West Adventures- October 09 934

Out West Adventures- October 09 852

Out West Adventures- October 09 881

Out West Adventures- October 09 806

Out West Adventures- October 09 832

Out West Adventures- October 09 885

Out West Adventures- October 09 805

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