Back Into The Wilderness

Last week was spring break. I, per the usual had a huge list of things I was hoping to get done. Mostly, all I did was nap. I slept for hours every day, getting very little done and being too exhausted to care. I wondered to my therapist and my friends if it was depression. I don’t think it is depression. I think it is grief. And not just grief but a familiar one.

My friend asks me how spring break was and I tell her I did little more than sleep. She tells me she is glad. She tells me that sleep is how the brain processes trauma. I am reminded how hard the last few weeks have been, and how I am working through a thing I have worked through before. In some ways this is good. I have done this thing, this kind of grieving so I know I can do it again. In some ways this is awful. I did not think this was a thing I would ever have to face again.

My husband was given a book once “They like Jesus but not the church.” I don’t know if we still have it. I do know we haven’t spoken to the book giver in years. Sometimes I wish I could be like the person in the title. I love Jesus, and I love the church. I think I always have, but sometimes I don’t much like the latter. Even when it is hard and painful and messy, even when we are busy disappointing each other, I still love the church. I don’t know how to do life without the church.

If you go back through my archives (please don’t, practice may not make perfect but it does make me a better writer) you can watch as I slowly back away, and then finally turn and run from an evangelical church that it was time to go from. I remember telling God I did not have the energy for church shopping, and God had BETTER give me a sign. That week Eastside Church put out their sign, Creative, Historic, Inclusive. That was all I needed. We were welcomed with open arms, I was affirmed in my gifts repeatedly, invited to preach, and then called from that church into the one I pastor now.

I know that most people in my generation do it, but I can’t imagine my life without a church. Even if I am all too familiar with the church breaking your heart. I left evangelicalism because as I grew and changed there wasn’t space for me anymore. Wasn’t space for a woman called to preach or a person convinced her LGBTQ friends weren’t sinning just for being whole. I was broken hearted by a church excited by my gifts but asking me to tuck parts of myself away as to not be so divisive And then, it happened again. The UMC voted (however closely) to exclude LGBTQ clergy and punish those of us who are affirming. The logical part of me knows that those who are telling me to wait for the judicial council, for the 2020 General Conference are the cooler heads that should prevail. But I am just. so. sad.

I showed up into the big tent called Methodism because it seemed like there was so much room. Room for my more conservative family who I still deeply respect in religious matters, my own growing liberal leanings, and my LGBTQ friends. I discovered that there was not enough room. I was faced with the reality that I yet again built a home in a place that my not want to welcome all of me, that there are those looking to make this tent much smaller.

I don’t know what is going to happen with the UMC. I am still faithfully pursuing ordination because I believe it is what I am called to do. But I am back in the wilderness again, the space where I am seeking and crying out. The space where I am depending on God for water, and manna, and my next right step. I only can go a little bit at a time and it all looks unfamiliar, and familiar simultaneously. It is the wilderness, yes. But I have been here before.

Last week I preached on the temptation of Jesus. I noticed, for the first time, that the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness. I think sometimes the Holy Spirit leads us into the wilderness too. Not because we are bad, or wrong or need corrected, not because we have strayed from God, but simply because it is time. It is time for us to go into the wilderness once again.

After all, in the wilderness we re-discover God.

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Return to the Beginning

*I had the pleasure of preaching the joint Ash Wednesday service with Eastside and New Hope, because it was in the chapel of Eastside there was no good place to record. Here is a written version.

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

1 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near— 2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come.

12 Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. 14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God? 15 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; 16 gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. 17 Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, “Where is their God?’ “

I heard about the water walks in the way I collect most of my random knowledge, in my car on the way to some place or from another. They were highlighted on “Live from Here” these water walkers and I found their story profound, familiar, full of hope. 

Ojibwe Women take a copper pot to the beginnings of the Mississippi river . THey dip the kettle into the pure springs and they fill it to the brim. Then, they take that pure water and they carry it, they walk it 1200 miles until they are 90 miles south of New Orleans. 

They are always moving, the water is always moving, because the river is also always moving, and though they cannot always see the river, they travel a similar path, until they meet again at the end and the pour the beginning water back into the river at the end. It is a blessing to the river, that the river might remember where it came from and be purified.

They believe that the water can be healed by remembering.

They believe that the earth and the people can repair a relationship by traveling the same course.

In order to heal, the water must return to the beginning, and the people must remember where the water came from. 

Something bad has happened in the text for Ash Wednesday. We don’t know what but it isn’t good. Economic and ecological downfall are coming, the  people all know it. The prophet Joel does not say that God caused it. The prophet Joel does not blame the people. This dark event simply is, and the people are rightly terrified. (I got a lot from Wil Gafney’s very helpful commentary which is here.) And the Prophet calls the people to repentance. Calls them to remember who their God is and what that God calls them to. The prophet Joel calls the people back to their beginning. Return to the Lord with all your heart. Remember where you came from.

From dust you were formed, to dust you will return. Friends, today I am here to tell you that this too is good news. Because the dust was from the beginning. And in the beginning the word was God and the word was with God and God is love. That God who is love created you from the dust. Put God’s hands around you and formed you so perfectly that even now you carry the fingerprints of God, then breathed your very life into you. Put your hand on your chest. Breathe in and out. Feel the rhythm up and down and participate in the breath of life. Go back to the beginning and remember that you are made from love. 

Who you are called to be?

Who we are called to be?

Who we are called to become?

People of the dust, people who are shaped by God, remember that this God is love, and made you from love. Remember the God who is (as I was taught in Sunday school) slow to anger and quick to love. Go back to that place and confess that we have not always acted as though we were loved, we have not always thought of our neighbors as loved, we have acted in ways, and within systems that have not reflected a loving God. We need to repent, and we are free to repent because we know who we are repenting too.  We repent to a loving God

We do not repent to get something from God, but because we can, because of who God is. We can come together, we can rend our hearts, we can remember the beginning, and that can purify us.

 

I wrote this in 2013. It is still true. I still love it. My people are so great. Grad school is not a joke. I still have pumpkins hanging in my dining room. That is okay. Jesus will still come.

Dear December,

There is so much about you that I love. I love pulling out the Christmas decorations.  I love the music. Oh my word do I love the advent candles. I love the movies. I even love the excitement that builds at school and the three half days of exams at the end. The over-all feeling of WE’RE ALMOST DONE that we practically go mad on, teachers and students alike.lovecandle

I am one of the lucky ones. For the most part, you’ve been good to me December. I don’t have any terrible memories or heart breaking disappointments. We generally get along.

But December, as you approach, I am noticing whispers of the little friend you so often bring, so let me be frank December, while I am excited you are coming to see me,

Your scarcity isn’t welcome here.

I have found the word to name the thing that whispers in the dark to me you are not enough. It’s name is scarcity, and it is not welcome here. I will no longer be allowing the lie that the present I lovingly picked out for someone is not enough. I will not be replacing that lie with the one that so quickly comes after that I spent too much money, or too little.

These presents are tokens of relationships, the do not define them.

I am choosing to believe this holiday season, that my best is good enough for the ones I love.

I will not let the lie of scarcity of memories make me feel guilty about not doing all the things all the time. I will instead choose to believe that a night in with mom and dad and some hot chocolate and cookies is not just good enough, but perfect. Even if the cookies are just the red Oreos.

I will not spin my family into a holiday frenzy for the perfect picture, the perfect outfits, the perfect dinner, the perfect moment. Those things aren’t real. They do not in fact exist. Happy kids and good enough pictures are in fact picture. After all, my favorite pictures from last year are the truly imperfect ones. There are lots of kinds of perfect pictures. The lie of scarcity isn’t welcome here.

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We will be decorating the house on Monday because we want to, and it is fun, and not because we are supposed to, or we are bad parents for not having the tree up. If only the bottom third of the tree gets ornaments because the girls want to hang every last one I will praise the girls for their creativity. I will tell them the tree looks beautiful, perfect even. And I will mean it.

There is enough. There is enough time, there is enough gifts, there is enough to go around. I am armed my grandmother’s cookie and candy recipes, and the ability to make pie with bourbon in it and vodka that tastes like candy canes. I will beat back the lie that my homemade efforts are not good enough with a swig of spiked hot chocolate and a set of beaters turned to full blast.

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And December, I hope this season is as sugar-coated my children’s dreams. But you can tell your friend scarcity I will not be baking out of a sense of guilt or fear of someone thinking my efforts are pathetic.

Tell your friend scarcity I will be baking the way I will be doing everything else this season. As a way to connect to the abundance of love from the christmas’ of my youth. As a way to pour love out to my neighbors and friends. For the pure joy of it.

I will not let your stupid friend scarcity rob me of the beautiful truth of this season, that Jesus came to give humanity the ultimate gift, an eternal relationship with an all-loving God. In him I am enough.

So December, I am looking forward to you.

All your beauty and whimsy, your reflection and rest. I love your anticipation and your laughter, your hope, peace, joy and love. But the scarcity that so often comes with you? Sorry.

That lie can go straight to hell where it came from.

Jesus came down to earth as a baby, as a testament to God’s abundant love. I will love abundantly this season. I will give grace abundantly.

That love and grace is so abundant I can extend it even to myself.

So here’s to you December. I can say honestly, without your little friend, I look forward to this beautiful time.

Much Love,

Abby

What a Strange Time to Dream

I had my clergy evaluation today. I sat at a desk and we plotted and planned for the future, for the next few years. Plan A was quickly thrown out and plan B was assessed as the best, and I got everything I wanted for the church I am leading. Everything. Some of the things I did not even know how to ask for, but there they were in the other people’s heads too.

This thing seems to be coming together. And I have two secret projects that are coming together. And I am finding new paths for dreams long held, and old hopes are coming home. I thought they were gone forever, but there they are, waiting for me in my current reality. Who knew?

And as I am living into some of my wildest dreams, my friends are scared for their marriages because they happen to love other women. My congregants are nervous about how their family and neighbors will be treated if they are found by ICE. Every woman I know feels unsafe.

And yet, here I am, with all of these dreams. All of these dreams of a safe place for people to know God, of a community that actually loves each other well, of a place where people could actually have the space to reach their full potential because they are reminded of their intrinsic value. I dream of a place full of good art, and thoughtful prayer, and interesting learning opportunities that might actually make a difference AND are affordable and accessible to everyone. Like ACTUALLY everyone.

I was heartbroken on Saturday, felt like the world was impossible, and I read through my sermon again and there it was, that EVERYONE was worthy. EVERYONE was valuable. That was what I had to give the church the next day, the assurance that God is wildly for them, even when they feel like all powers that be are not. The world feels like it is spinning apart, except my tiny corner of the world where we dream of serving those who are most often forgotten, but not by God.

It is a strange time to be dreaming. But here I am. Maybe it is a strange time to be dreaming. Maybe that is exactly when we need the dreams God has.

To Priscilla on Her 7th Birthday

Dear Priscilla,

A couple of days ago you turned 7. 7! I cannot even believe it. You are more and more yourself every single year and I hope that never changes. I hope you keep growing into yourself because who you are is totally remarkable.

I often describe you to other people using words like powerful and fierce. I joke with my friend that when you are our dictator I hope you are a benevolent one. You know your will and you express it effectively and very often the world bends toward it. It is truly remarkable to watch.

I hope you are always this good at expressing your desires. I hope you know how often people are delighted to make your world good, how often it delights us to delight you.

I also hope that my description of you as fierce and powerful don’t pigeon hole you into not having feelings. You are SO sweet and generous. You are so kind and loving. Those things go hand in hand. You do not have to choose. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO CHOOSE.

You get to be your whole self, all the time. You know that now, at seven years old. I pray that you will never unlearn it.

Love,

Mom

When I am Relying on Manna from Heaven

One of the lessons I learned, early on in blogging, was unsurprisingly taught by Sarah Bessey. Of course I resonated with her blog. She wrote a lot about motherhood and writing with the scraps of time God gives us. The thing that she wrote that has stayed with me all this time is this: your ideas, your creativity is like manna from heaven. Don’t store it up, use it up. There will be enough that will appear next time. You don’t have to horde your best ideas. Tomorrow you will have new best ideas. Your creativity is from God, and it will not run out.

I worry a lot about running out. I worry a lot about whether there will be enough. Mostly, it is enough love, enough energy, enough support from the people around me. I want to know there will be enough to go around. I want to know that I am enough to go around. And then I stretch myself so thin only to prove what I fear most: I am not enough.

And y’all that is exactly true and exactly not true. I suppose if I was supposed to do it all I would not be enough. But that is very much not my job. I am only supposed to do what I am supposed to do. I am only supposed to use up my manna for the day. I am only supposed to say yes to MY stuff, not to all the stuff. That part is hard.

I said a pretty huge YES in February. I started pastoring a church. Then we decided to close and re-vision and re-vamp and re-furbish and most of my summer has been dedicated to that yes. I have so many ideas and so many dreams for New Hope and y’all are so amazing at blessing that community. We have been having a ton of fun all summer on your squirt gun and slip’n’slide donations. I know that very many of you want to partner with us, but sometimes I am afraid the partnering is going to run out. I know that the stuff is really kind of God’s job, but I get nervous.

Meanwhile this summer, in the midst of the busy I received another yes. I have been accepted on the Ruby Woo pilgrimage for this year. It is an amazing opportunity where I learn how to advocate for my community as a faith leader. It is training I need and it is just the most remarkable opportunity. I kept meaning to tell you about it but I did not, and I have realized why: I need financial help to get there, and I am afraid that if I ask for me now, I will somehow be stealing from New Hope later. Like, people will either support my personal growth as a pastor, or the growth that I am praying for in the church I pastor. I am afraid I need to store up this manna so no one will go hungry later.

Y’all, this is such a lie. The truth is, if I am called to do this, I need to do it. If my church needs something God will work it out. I don’t have to hold back. I don’t have to starve for someone else to eat. In this kingdom there is enough.

I am attempting to raise $5000 for the RubyWoo pilgrimage. This will cover my cost of the event and travel AND it will help others get there too. I don’t want to go alone, because I want to go far. I want everyone who feels called to be able to go, even if they don’t have the reach or audience to fundraise for themselves.

I am currently serving a congregation and community that is often forgotten about by city council and government agencies. Going down to city hall to raise a ruckus isn’t a class they teach at seminary, but it is what my people need from their leader.

Can you help me get there?

Can you pray for me and tell me you are?

Can you share this?

Can you donate? 

I am so ridiculously grateful for the ways y’all support me. I am praying for you, and praying that God would bless this world by allowing each of us to pour out our gifts. I am trying hard to model that.

What if Church were like Hamiltunes?

My husband and I found an activity that might be nerdier than the live streaming of the national speech tournament awards show and rooting for our team as alumni. Our favorite date night activity is to go to Hamiltunes and karaoke through the entire soundtrack of Hamilton with other people in our city who love it as much as we do. We love Hamiltunes, because we love the musical but our consistent presence at Hamiltunes goes deeper than that. We like the way the event makes us feel.

As I spend this summer preparing for a grand re-opening of a faithful little church, I can’t help dream about what that will be. We are sticking with the hymns because we all know them, and like them, and there are plenty of books around with the words. At Hamiltunes you are not out if you don’t know the show. We are excited to introduce you to the show, to tell you our favorite lyrics, to see the delight in your face when we all throw our hands in the air to snap and yell WORK! We are in a club or sorts, but you are invited and we want you there to experience it. What if the church sang hymns like that? Like we actually believed the words, like what we were singing mattered, like this thing that we sing about is really remarkable and we want to introduce you to it? I want to go to a church like that.

At Hamiltunes everyone is in and everyone is welcome. This is also true at New Hope, I have truly never seen a more welcoming church than the one I serve. I went before I started preaching there, and y’all they were amazing. Every single person who walks in through those doors knows they are loved. At Hamiltunes everyone is also welcome to participate. We WANT you on the stage, as a chorus member or to throw out a random line. We want you to sing along from your seats. We want you in on the action, as in as you want to be.

What if that is how it was at church? What if you could come up and lead because you just love this song so much, or you could sit in the back and just take it all in. What if every way you wanted to participate in worship were a good way?

I like Hamiltunes because I can try out different parts. I like that I can try being King George, or George Washington, or Angelica. I like that you can figure it out and see. Turns out that the range for Hamilton is not the best for me, but Burr works well. I know that King George is way more fun than I thought it would be and George Washington is where my heart lies. I know that because I got to try. I got to try and see if it wasn’t for me then I knew. I want church to be a place where the people get to try and see if their heart sings, if they love something. I want church to be a place where you can discover you love something, and your church roots for you. Your church can’t wait to see you nail it. Your church is longing for you to succeed and wants to cheer you on when you do.

I want to go to that church, one that feels like Hamiltunes. I want people to be as comfortable on Sunday, as they are at the Vista room, singing their hearts out.