Archive for February, 2011

February 28, 2011

Enduring Friendship

In a society such as ours, where most of us are so transient and live far away from biological family, friendship, it seems is growing more and more important to our stability as people. Who else do we have to call when our car dies or our children get sick or we just need someone to cry too? Our friends are not merely people who we go to dinner with occasionally or invite to parties, our friends are essential to our being. 

Yet, such doesn’t come naturally to us. Much to our surprise, especially as young adults, it seems that having friends doesn’t naturally happen like it did in college or graduate school. It takes work.  It takes time. It takes trust. It takes vulnerability.  

I was reading this portion about friendship recently, and was struck with how true these words were to my own experience. I thought you might enjoy them too:

Not even mutual admiration is, by itself, enough to keep a friendship alive that long. For one thing we discover somewhere along the line that even people we admire have feet of clay. The best of us is flawed. Our flaws show through eventually; we disappoint our friends, and sometimes their disappointments hurts enough to wound our friendship. Or even worse, we may discover that the traits we so much admired were put-ons, cosmetics hiding a shabby interior.  . . .

Besides, even friends who admire each other a lot drift a part when one moves to another part of the country. If I move away and don’t see my friend for 5 years, and do not stay in close touch, our friendship is likely to die of malnutrition, with dignity maybe, and peacefully, but with the same result of dying. I may still admire him [or her], but I would admire him [or her] as a person who used to be my friend.

I feel a good deal of melancholy when I think of it, but it is true that we cannot count on mutual admiration to make friendships last forever, any more than we can expect friendships to last because friends like each other or are useful to each other. If friendships like these happen to last a lifetime, it is probably because they are more than friendships of affection, or usefulness or admiration. Most likely, they are held together because the friends are committed to each other.

-Lewis B. Smedes from Caring and Committment

So, I’ll add “It takes mutual committment” to my list and be thankful this day for friends who stood and continue to stand the tests of time.

February 24, 2011

Be All There

As a follow-up from my earlier post this week about balance, I thought I’d continue this same conversation along the lines of how our “I’m busy” attitudes shapes the activities in our lives that we actually have time for.

I can’t tell you how many times people say to me in passing or during a set time we are spending together: “I know you are so busy and don’t have time to talk long, but I really need to say just this one thing . . . ”  In this, I sense much anxiety and hurry in conversation because folks assume I’m ready to be off to the next thing before even our time is over. I’m sure this statement is not exclusive to the pastorate and shows up in other people orientated professions too.

And, while I applaud the concern others have for my time and diversity of responsibilities, it makes me sad to think that parishioners and others don’t actually believe I’m perfectly content in the moment to be with just them.

When I make appointments to have lunch or coffee with a person or I have a chance to chat on the phone with someone during a time that is good for both of us, I try to live by the motto that Jim Elliot once said, “Wherever you are, be all there.” And, in those moments– there is no one else I am thinking about or want to spent time with than the person before me. If this wasn’t true, why did I go to all the trouble to schedule a meeting just with them, after all?

There is a gift, I believe, that each of us have with our time. We can all try to multitask our way to doing more than is humanly possible in one day or we can manage our schedules in such a way that we have the opportunity to be present wherever the minutes of our days find us.

Sure, there will always be crises that render us unfocused, distracted and unable to be present in anyone’s thoughts than our own, but if we are seeking to live intentional lives, doing meaningful things, then we have to carve out time in our schedules for people and causes that matter to us AND be all there when we arrive in them.

Sometimes this will involve honestly saying to the other, “I’m sorry, something unusual just happened and I have a lot on my mind this afternoon. But, I still really wanted to be present here with you, so bear with me.”  Sometimes this will involve canceling appointments and rescheduling them for better time. Sometimes this will involve hiding our cell phones, blackberries or other mobile devises from our reach when we are having a conversation. Sometimes this will involve the realization that there are some folks/ situations that we have no business being present in anyway– for we are truly incapable of being “all there” EVER. 

Just know from this pastor’s desk, that if we have a meeting to spend time together, I count it as a gift and my pleasure and will do everything I can to be present with you in the time we have and hope you are able to do the same. And, in giving and receiving the gift of each other’s time, I believe,  we might just stop wasting time  in the precious moments of our days talking about how busy we think we are.

February 23, 2011

Some of my favorite birthday gifts

Monday was my birthday and it was a wonderful day! I got several sweet gifts but I especially loved these. The way to this preacher’s heart is always flowers (thanks Kevin) and who doesn’t love a good t-shirt?

February 22, 2011


Albert Einstein once said, “Life is like a riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.”

Though I can’t ride an actual bicycle (yes, it is true– anyone want to teach me though many have tried and failed?), I have been in several conversations lately with colleagues, friends and even with our pastoral intern about life/ work balance in the pastorate.

In one such conversation, I was told by a good friend that I seem to be pretty good at finding life and work balance.

“What?” was my first response followed by immediate laughter. Knowing how much I struggle with it, I thought: “Balanced, me? No way!” Life in a non 9-5 job is a difficult game of finding your place at home and at work, making hard decisions, saying yes and a lot of saying no. It is a game I seem to play with as much self-awareness as I can muster up every day of the week. It is a game that never will have an end.

But, then my friend said, “Well, maybe that is exactly the point. You find your balance in the struggle.”

The struggle comes, for me,  in knowing often how much work is enough– how many visits does one person in the hospital need to receive over the course of any illness? How many committee meetings of the church do I need to attend? How many social gatherings of church members do I need to support and enjoy? Because often the expectations of pastor seems to be more, more and more.

The struggle comes in whether or not I will stay at home an extra 30 minutes to  fold laundry or get to work early. The struggle comes in watching a tv show or movie I really want to enjoy or doing some professional writing. The struggle comes in working on my day off when crisis hits or saying it can wait one more day.

At the same time I want to be a good wife. I want to be a good friend. I want to be a good community member. And, really where is the time to make it all work when your professional job is so time intensive?

Sometimes I’m not sure. Sometimes, I’m not sure how I could add one more thing to my life without sinking completely.  

But, I what I do know is that I usually know when I’m working too much– for dread sets in because there hasn’t been Sabbath time away for renewal. My ideas aren’t as fresh. I don’t have new direction about this or that on my way to work in the morning.  My husband wonders when I’m going to be home for dinner at least one night during the week. And, I haven’t had a good conversation with a friend in weeks.

I usually know when I’m not working enough– problems seem to pile up in my email inbox or on my voicemail. The office administrator doesn’t get the time she needs from me to help hold all the tasks together and those in need don’t receive lunch appointments or visits. The sermon doesn’t get the research it deserves.

While there might not be some perfect way to achieve balance, a lot of the balance comes in keeping going. If I work too much this week, I’ll play too much next week. If I play too much this week, I’ll work too much next week.

I’m a general believer in the fact that there is always time for things worth doing.

Yes, there’s time to take trips out-of-town with friends for pleasure. Yes, there is time to prepare for the sermons during the week. Yes, there is time to take the whole day off to hang with my husband. Yes, there is time to hang  with a friend who is having a bad day. Yes, there is time to plan for this upcoming study. The rest just seems to fall to the wayside. The goal is just to let it go, and go in peace.

This may this be my thought of the day for all of us who struggle with the balance game. Just keep walking . . . one foot in front of another.

February 16, 2011

Being a Doormat?

I’ve known a lot of doormats in my life (including myself at times)– not just the objects that you walk on before entering a door, but human ones . . . people who will lay down and follow commands without question as soon as a person with a tougher looking bite beings to bark.

And, when I inquire of this folks as to why, what they most often tell me is that their decisions are determined by religious reasons. For many Christians, these religious reasons go back to the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.

What did Jesus really mean when he said  “blessed are the peacemakers” and “go the extra mile” or “turn the other cheek?”

I’ve had these texts on my mind a lot because of my recent peace making travels to Israel and also because of the lectionary readings for the past several weeks.

I’ve learned through my Muslim and Jewish friends that these words are among those whom they respect Jesus the most for, even if they disagree with him on other points. I’ve learned through  listening carefully to everyday conversations how much these particular words are a part of our everyday vernacular: we use them all the time and don’t even realize it!

“What would Jesus do if you are slapped by a friend?  Turn the other cheek, of course!”

Yet, like many texts, I fear, when they are read out of context, bad things can happen. Bad things, especially for women:  the acceptance of what no one should ever experience– willfully allowing others to walk all over them for the sake of being called “a good Christian.”

This begs us to ask the questions: is Jesus encouraging us to remain in abusive relationships? Is Jesus encouraging us to have our dignity stripped away? Is Jesus encouraging us to become less human in order to keep the peace?

I think not. This explanation says it best:

At the time of Jesus, striking someone deemed to be of a lower class with the back of the hand was used to assert authority and dominance. If the persecuted person “turned the other cheek,” the discipliner was faced with a dilemma. The left hand was used for unclean purposes, so a back-hand strike on the opposite cheek would not be performed. The other alternative would be a slap with the open hand as a challenge or to punch the person, but this was seen as a statement of equality. Thus, by turning the other cheek the persecuted was in effect demanding equality.

Yet, there seems to be a nagging sense in the undercurrent of Christian culture that to be “at peace with everyone” (as Paul describes later in his words to the Christian communities)– truly does involve giving in to untruths, taking a back seat to those who seek to oppress, and letting loved ones take advantage of you as if love=let you hurt me again and again. 

My sisters, my brothers, we have to stop accepting this as “right” in the way of Jesus and we as leaders have to stop modeling it in our churches.

One of the most powerful lectures I experienced while in seminary came from Dr. Esther Ascolatse. Our class discussion that Monday afternoon centered around what is the purpose of salvation and Dr. Ascolatse’s answer for us culminated in what means to be human. I was shocked, you know. Why wouldn’t she give us salvation formulas or talking points about theories of atonement (the nerdy things seminary students debate)? No, she was insistent to  teach how the redemption Christ brought gave us all the opportunity to become the people– the humans– God intentionally created us to be. Salvation always would be about wholeness.

Christ’s empowerment in these words fulfills some other famous text of Jesus: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Our gospel calling continues to be then, how to be both respectful of those in authority positions over us, but always unashamedly insistent on our humanity being acknowledged too.

It’s a scary and a bit more challenging to “turn the other cheek” and to “be a peacemaker” in this way– for we can’t accept things as they are. We can’t avoid conflict. We don’t lay down limply. Rather, we are charged by Christ to participate in justice for ourselves as much as we do for others.

Maybe my Christian brothers and sisters, our homes, our churches, our workplaces don’t need any doormats. Instead maybe what we need more of are talking, walking, thinking, reflecting, engaging communities where conflicts aren’t solved by the powerful winning but rather, where the truth is told and love is shared on both sides.

February 7, 2011

Welcome, John

A shift in the life of Washington Plaza has occurred in the last month. We’ve hired our first pastoral intern in many, many years to help our focus on growth with the children ministry. We are eager to be more welcoming as a church to all people including preschoolers and school aged children.

Rev. John Luft comes to us from Texas as a seminary student at the Washington Theological Consortium. We are so excited to welcome the energy, the enthusiasm and the organizational skills of John into our community life. John is a passionate theological teacher and is eager to make religious education fun!

He’s already making a big difference with our children during our children’s ministry time downstairs each Sunday at 11 am alongside our WPBC volunteers. And, we’re excited about what he will continue to help us do in the future!

February 7, 2011

A Radical Shift

Epiphany Series: What Does the Lord Require of Us?

 A Radical Shift

Isaiah 58:1-9

Prior to our wedding in 2007, Kevin and I thought we knew each other well. We thought we knew what each other liked. We thought we knew our routines. We thought we could predict the needs and wants of the other. Making it official would be so easy, right? Well not quite.  Our journey of learning had hardly started. . .

This was a lesson that each of us clearly learned the first summer we were married.  After being gone for a week at a work conference, I came home, eager to have some down time and a relaxing evening. I was looking forward to catching up with Kevin about the week’s events. All my expectations for my homecoming centered around sitting down at the table together and sharing a casual dinner of conversation. Time, is a love language for me, I assumed it was Kevin’s . . .

Instead, what he did to show that he missed me over the course of the week, being the good newlywed that he was his efforts centered around landscaping the yard. He took a day off of work. He planted flowers. He removed the leaves in the backyard that I had not raked the previous fall out of lack of interest. He just knew I’d love the way the yard looked and how clean it was on the inside as well. 

But the thing was I really didn’t notice at all. Instead, upon pulling up to our house, I wondered why we were having houseguests for the evening (some college boys who were doing a service trip in DC) which meant I wouldn’t get my nice dinner with him alone. Acts of service toward our yard and clean kitchen and bathroom sinks really weren’t my idea of love (though now I acknowledge the error of my newlywed ways in discouraging him and we are trying to still learn).

Confusion about the expectations of showing love, as our household has experienced them as I’m sure yours has too, is nothing new under the sun. Not only, I believe have countless other relationships like ours struggled with what it means to show acceptable love in the other’s eyes, but in the difficulty of what it means show love to God. Asking the question like we are doing for the next couple of weeks in our services, “What does the Lord require of us?” is another way of saying, “How does God know that I love God?”

The residents of Jerusalem, newly returned from exile, were answering such a question as described in Isaiah 58 with the word, “fasting.” They felt that God would truly feel pleased with them, honor them, and pat them on the back saying, “good job, good job” because they were participating in the prescribed fasts plus some. Withholding form their diet their normal patterns of receiving daily food and nutrients as a way to show their devotion to the Lord.

Though fasting is known from our modern religious landscape as a practices quite typical to the most devout, in this ancient time, such was not the case. While there is mention in scripture of incidences where fasting was a part of a time of preparation and/or repentance in the life of a leader, fasting wouldn’t have been something that every person a part of the Jewish faith at that time would have regularly participated in.

However, at such a time as this, when the land and the future of the land was in chaos—Isaiah speaks of the people’s fascination and participation in this practice as the thing they thought would make them seem really committed.

If you’ve ever tried fasting for religious purposes, or even read about people who do, you realize that fasting is no small thing. Fasting is more than writing a check to a non-profit, showing up at something for a good cause or even bowing your head in prayer. Rather, fasting is actually a radical act of completely given over to God your entire bodily needs and desires in order to be full of something else.

In a religious fast, though it can be done different ways—with water, without water, with juices—the methods are all encompassing. For you simply can’t wake up and decide one morning, “Today I am going to fast” and it not completely change the outlook on your day and your activities therein: fasting is making a commitment of complete awareness to something greater than your own self and its needs.  And while physical needs of food and water are important, in a fast, the dependence on food and water is shifted to spiritual needs.

With this said, the Israelites, had reason, don’t you think to be proud of themselves for fasting? And, the way Isaiah speaks of their practice it was more than a one-time only occasion: it was a regular occurrence. Such makes my admiration of their devotion go up, doesn’t it yours?

The real shocker though, was that such didn’t really matter to God in this case. The fasting was nice and all . . . . but there was one HUGE problem with their fasting. Like my lack of admiration in yard work, so was how God felt about their fasting. It wasn’t what God required of them. It wasn’t center stage to what a life of discipleship was all about.

The life God was calling the people too would be radical but it wouldn’t be a radical stand alone act, rather it would be a rather shift of how they saw and treated their neighbors.

Consider this: when you and I began a journey of faith (or begin to take it seriously for the first time as an adult), we shift our lives to the love and forgiveness and teachings of Jesus. We realized a need for “something bigger than us.” We knew we needed a change.

Yet, when such a shift toward faith in Christ is made, I dare say for most of us the expectations go something like this: “Come to church. Get involved with something at church—a study, a service project. Give your money. Pray when you can. Get to know the Bible.” And as we get in the motions of entering this kind of faith, we might begin to feel that our acts of devotion are no more than robotic gestures that make us feel like a good person from time to time. We study, we pray, we serve, we give simply because “It is the right thing to do.”

However, what Isaiah was saying to the Israelites and what I believe he might be saying to us in this Christian culture is thank you for your devotion, thank you for shifting your lives closer to things of God but if you want to know what I truly require of you, then know your life’s direction will radically change. Don’t be scared, though, it’s a direction that will be oh so fulfilling for you and oh so pleasing to me. Why? Because more of MY light, instead of just yours, will shine on this earth.

“Radical” such is a word that I know congers up in us images that we dare not go toward. Radical extremists, radical choices, radical religion are among topics we most like to avoid. Moderate, progressive and gradual change are all the more pleasing terms.

Yet, modeled after the concept of fasting, where the Israelites were already devoting themselves to God with their bodily urges for nourishment, we are invited to such an all encompassing shift, not just on “fast day” but every day. 

This “every day” Isaiah was prescribing included becoming a socially aware person, functioning not as an island, or on their church as an island, but a citizen in the larger world—deeply connected to everyone in whom they encountered.

Look with me at verse 6: “Is not this the fast I choose: to lose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” And Isaiah goes on in verse 7 to say this: “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house?”

The Lord was saying, come see, my people that a life of faith is not solely about what religious devotion you can muster up to me in private, but come participate in the radical act of seeing others in the community as beloved children of God, just as they are to me. For the people could not go to temple with a smile on their face after completing a fast, which is an individual act, and then go to work the next day and oppress their employees.  Because when you do, you’ll begin to want to re-order the finances, time and priorities of your life to think not only of yourself and your family but these folks as well.

Two weeks ago, while in an Israeli settlement outside of Jerusalem our Interfaith travel group had the opportunity to meet with Rabbi Mark Cohen, an orthodox Rabbi, living in an intentional community of Jewish prayer and study with over 50 families.

Politically living in an Israeli “settlement” where Rabbi Cohen and his wife and eight children dwell with him is a complicated act. Such land is not technically his or his Jewish neighbors according to International law or the Palestinians who used to dwell there. Yet, Rabbi Cohen is not the kind of guy to bother himself with the politics of boundary lines and land disputes, for him, while his choice of residence by nature IS a political statement, his greatest desire is to study the ancient texts and teach them to his people in a rural setting.

As part of our visit to Rabbi Cohen’s community, we were graciously invited into his home and prepared tea and snacks by his wife. As we reclined at his kitchen table, we were among some of the first Christians and Muslims he’d ever received into his residence. Rarely did he ever meet his Arab neighbors, talk to them and even went on to say, “I don’t know why the Arabs want our land so badly. God gave it to us long ago through the covenant it is ours and I really have nothing else to say about that.”

Eager to connect with him about something he cared about, John, the non-denominational pastor on our trip quickly pulled out his Bible. He turned to Isaiah and read some words from this book which are a lot like our text for this morning from verse 8: “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring forth quickly.” Pastor John asked Rabbi Cohen what he thought of this text saying, “In conversation with what you just said about your Arab neighbors and as this text speaks of the Jewish people being a light, a light for Gentiles to see, how do you feel you are being a light to your neighbors?”

This talkative Rabbi was stunned to have been asked such a question . . . . I don’t think he’d ever really thought of his neighbors like this . . . and was speechless.

Though none of us in this room live in a Jewish settlement community that is causing us to have land wars with our neighbors about disputes that go back to ancient times, I dare say, Pastor John’s questionings might offer us some direction about the radical shift of lifestyle that following Christ’s teaching might be asking us to make.

For if we are going to truly be disciples, not just religious observers, then we are going to have to begin thinking more about our neighbors—all of them. And, if we don’t know where to start, it is always good to think about who lives and works closest to us.

And while our choices to spend more time out of our normal patterns of work and play might be costly (we might have less time for friends who are just like us, we might lose money as we are moved to share with those who have less than we do, we might lose our naivety of being a insulated citizen of America as stories like the one we’ve been watching all we about Egypt become a part of our heart), the call to relate to one another in love remains the same.

For me, I’ve become more convicted over the last week that following Jesus for me over the next season of my life is going to including strengthening more friendships with people who are not like me on the surface— breaking down labels of “poor” “Hispanic” “Muslim” “un-religious” and the list could go on.

I can’t let the friendships I made on a 10 day trip be just that, a 10 day trip where I check off the box in my life, “engaged in interfaith work.” No, if I truly think that God is calling me, calling our community to break the bonds of injustice in any way it can be done, then I have to continue to have my life transformed through relationships with others, especially those who are Muslim and Jewish. It’s a radical shift for me to integrate this into my life patterns.

And today, I ask you to prayerfully examine what God’s radical call of discipleship might be for you. Who might you need to get to know? Who might you need to re-connect with? Who might you need to honor? Who might you need to give your money to?

Because after all, didn’t Jesus say, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid.” It’s light my friends, it’s joy my friends, it’s peace my friends that is going to come from you and not being the people who are going through the motions of faith, yet another year, but instead, laying down what is comfortable and picking up what is of God. and as the Psalmist once said, “how good and blessed it is when brothers and sisters dwell together.”

And, an opportunity to know God is here today where we remember the most radical shift made of all—here at this table. Here we are invited to receive what was broken for us, not just for the sake of being broken, but given in love so that God’s light might shine to all people. So today, let us gather and shift our hearts to taste and see that God is good beginning here right now, in the eyes of the diversity of one another.


February 2, 2011

My Friend on Egypt

Aziz, our new friend and recent travel partner and guide in Israel was interviewed today on DC’s Fox News about the future of Egypt in light of the current crisis. Listen to him. He has wisdom to share with all of us who are so considered about the future of the Middle East.

It is a good, as people of faith, to be informed about how we can pray for places around our world that are in need of peace and peaceful change. Egypt has certainly been at the top of my list this week.

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