Thursday, December 21, 2017

Longest Night reflection (2017)

Of all the services for the Christmas season, this one has become my favorite.  It has seemed the most genuine, not marked by the trappings of a more secularized Christmas.  It highlights the harsh reality that Mary and Joseph faced as Jesus was born among us
–  difficult travel over rough terrain when 9 mos. Pregnant
-          Under the control of the Roman gov’t that could demand such a journey
-          No place to rest after a weary journey except amongst the orders of a stable
-          No welcome or hospitality – could it have been b/c of the questionable situation regarding Mary’s pregnancy

But this year, while I knew that I needed this service, that I need the grace of this service, I have been scared as well.   Do it want to face my own pain?  How can I pastor others in the midst of my own sorrow?

This service invites us, invites me to be vulnerable, to touch those tender and hurting places that I have tried to keep busy and ignore, push aside for another day or just take a deep breath and endure.  It offers a place of rest and comfort away from my own attempts to be strong and carry on

I looked through a variety of books and other resources so that I could avoid my own sorrow and focus elsewhere.  There is surely someone else’s words that will suffice and will be acceptable under the circumstances.   I have gotten fairly good at putting aside my own emotions, for the most part, over the years.

Death and sorrow are no strangers.  I have faced many deaths and leavings throughout my life
-          From the time of my birth when my twin sister died
-          The death of my birth father before I was four
-          While I was blessed to have five sets of grandparents, all 10 of them have died – the last and most difficult one being my Grandpa Berg to whom I felt the closest
-          The death of my stepfather a year or two before I met Michael
-          Have presided over at least 100 or more funerals in my years as serving as a pastor (with as many as 10 of them in the past few months)
-          I have experienced a kind of death when I resigned from my last congregation and was on leave,  from call, unemployed, for a year
-          As well as the ending and changing of various relationships over the years

Death is no stranger and I have even “prided” myself on being a survivor amidst all these deaths; pulling myself up by those “proverbial boot straps” and getting on with what needs to be done until my grief catches me off guard and slides down my face

But this service, these words that I speak, that we share together this night are calling me to face the pain, the sorrow, the grief – to be honest with myself in the presence of God.  It brings us to the manger, along with Mary and Joseph in the harshness of their own reality, in the dark nights of our own souls.  And it is here that we meet Jesus.

God knows the pains and sorrows of our hearts better than we ourselves.  While we may not always be able to name them – God knows them.  When we don’t even want to voice them, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us in sighs too deep for words.

Christ was not born to brush away all the sorrows of this world, to whisk them away on the wind so that we would live a kind of “don’t worry, be happy” kind of life.  We are met by Christ at the place of our sorrow.  We are met by the One whose love is so powerful that it would face death itself, showing us that love never does end, that love overcomes death and sorrow, offering healing, hope and peace.

We come this evening to name our sorrows, our frustrations, our pain.  In the naming, we are offering them to the Christ-child, not to “fix”, but to help us carry them.  In the words of scripture, we hear the words of hope spoken by those who have gone before us, those who have faced pain and sorrow of their own.  They share their own journeys through the “valley of the shadow of death”, knowing that God accompanied them in those times.

As we come to name before God our own sorrows on this longest of nights, we come seeking the peace and comfort of Christ.  We come, magnifying the name of God – for he is the One from whom light shines in the darkness.

I end with a Blessing for the Longest Night written by Jan Richardson, following the death of her own husband a few years ago.  May her words shine Christ’s light on us as well.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

International Womens Day

As I sit here in my red shirt in my office (no, I didn't "strike" today), I am reminded of countless women who have been influential in my own life and so I want to honor them here with brief tributes (this is most certainly not an exhaustive list; and I suspect that I will continue to add to it).

Amanda Peterson Alquist, my great-great grandmother who came from Sweden by herself at 18 to build a new life in the US (we still make her Swedish rye bread today)

Edla Bloomquist, grandmother of my grandfather who spoke only Swedish raised my grandfather and took in boarders to make ends meet

Margaret Berg & Altjie Manske, maternal & paternal grandmothers who's gifts of hospitiality, faith and love reflected throughout their lives.

Elaine Berg, mother extraordinarie who lives as an example of living your life to its fullest no matter the obstacles, setbacks or curveballs that life throws at you.  She showed us what it means to be a "right on woman" and to not accept any less

Marilyn Dyer, "wicked" stepmother whose does celebrate life in all its fullness with love and laughter

Cristina Dyer-Droback, "favorite" sister whose creativity finds its expression in work and play, setting the example for the next generation of "right on women" with Serena

Consciousness-raising women (Mom, Bernice, Pam and Dorothy) who, while they didn't "burn their bras", sought to be and raise "feminists" in their midst

De Brown who helped me to "not take any shit" from others and stand up for myself

Marie Jerge, pastor/bishop/friend  whose gracious leadership and spirit-filled faith serves as an example to me daily (she is also a mentor)

Female Clergy Prayer group (Susan, Ruth, Marie, Maryann) with whom I journeyed in faith during my time in WNY.  Their prayerful support and witness continues to undergird my journey today

Clergy sisters (Lena, Nicole, Stephanie, Lydia) with whom I meet with now as we share the joys, struggles and laughter of parish ministry

Patricia Lull, pastor and internship supervisor helped this "PK" (pastor's kid) find her own voice as a pastor, challenging me and helping me clarify "why I wanted to be a pastor"

Marion Love, Theatre dept. chair at college who encouraged and supported me both in quite literally finding my voice as well as in the discernment process of going to seminary

Through her-story
Suffergettes such as Susan B. Anthony, Sojouner Truth and so many others that we do not know their names who fought so hard for their own rights as well as the rights of others so that I have the privilege and responsiblity of voting

Historical figures like Sybil Luddington, Abigail Adams and the like who only seem to get a footnote in our history books and yet played much larger roles in our history than they are given credit for

Nobel peace recipents like Malala and Leymah Gbowee  for standing up in the face of injustice, despite the dangers, to bring peace and hope into the lives of others

Celebrities like Michelle Obama, Beyonce, Ellen and Oprah who don't like the world define or direct their identity

I thank God everytime that I remember each of you and pray that, inspired by your life and witness, I may help others find their own voice and be bold in the use of our gifts for the sake of all people 

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Gift of Life

As a pastor, I am often with families who are going through difficult times in their lives - many of them life-changing.  I pray and wish that I could do something to help allieviate the pain and suffering that they are experiencing.  I long to be able to turn back the clock and prevent a particular event from taking place.  I want to be able do something - anything to help.

In the past week, many of us have watched helplessly as Jessi-Ann's heart failed and she was placed on a machine to keep her heart beating.  We hold onto every bit of news that brings us hope as we wait to see what will happen.  We want to be able to help, to do something - anything to bring the healing and hope that we all long for.  Yet, we must live in the midst of the uncertainty and the waiting.

As one who has been by the bedside of a loved one, waiting and watching, often with uncertainty, it is difficult to tell others how they might help.  What we want the most is healing and renewed life and that rarely happens overnight.  It is not something we have to give to those who long for it.

Jessi-Ann's family has had numerous people ask how they might help.   And as I thought and prayed about what we could realistically do, I thought about Jessi-Ann and her life that she has lived with such abundance since her heart transplant.  She is more than just the receipient of a transplant but an advocate and support for others who are in need of a transplant themselves.  The gift of life that she was blessed to receive is a gift that she celebrates to its fullest.

Yet, New York state has the third-lowest donor registration rate in the country, but it’s ranked third-highest among all states by the number of residents in need of a transplant.

I believe that one of the greatest gifts that we can give is the gift of life.  I personally am blessed by the gift of life from a bi-lateral lung transplant that was given to my husband, Michael over 21 years ago.  We would've never met if that young man's family had not offered this gift in the midst of their own sorrow.  Jessi-Ann would not have had the life she's had thus far without that gift of life eight years ago.

While we may not be able to bring the quick healing for Jessi-Ann that we all pray and long for, we can honor her life and her love that has touched us all.  Think and pray about registering to be an organ donor (see the link below) or donate blood at an upcoming blood drive.  Talk to your family about your decision as they will likely to be the ones who will be faced by it.  Invite your friends and other family members to do the same (let's see if we can change those NYS statistics!)

As we have been blessed by the gift of Jessi-Ann's presence in our lives, let us promise to share the gift of our lives with others.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Eat, Pray, Love series

During these summer months, we have been gathering following worship for a time to share a meal together and learn different ways to pray.  I included a couple of things in my previous post but wanted to share a few more.

Prayer during different seasons of our lives
   Summer is a time of many different kinds of events
-          What events are you attending/participating in this summer?
-          How do you mark them?
o   What kinds of things might we pray about for these events?

    For everything there is a season
           Read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
-          Other kinds of milestones in people’s lives (good or bad)
o   examples
§  Retirement
§  Moving
§  Losing job/getting new job
§  Teen getting license
§  Empty Nest or new family
§  Specific holidays

                    * What kinds of prayers might be lifted up for these kinds of milestones in your life or the lives of others?

Tangible ways to mark these seasons
o   Laying on of hands with prayer
o   Prayer shawls to surround and uphold them(not just when people sick)
o   Lighting a candle
o   Make a collage of pictures (not just for funerals)
      For Everything a Season; Blessings for Daily life by the Nilsen Family
      All Through the Day, All Through the Night: Family Prayers & Celebrations by David Batchelder

Praying with Color
   One of the newest trends is coloring books for adults.  You can find them just about anywhere.  Pictures and images can even be downloaded online.

 In this session, we used coloring pages that had Psalms connected to them.  
        They became a kind of meditation as we focused on the verse as we colored in the picture.

Another way is to do your own drawing, using this framework from a book called Praying In Color by Sybil Macbeth (the following is from her website: )

 Reasons to pray with color:
1) You want to pray but words escape you. 2) Sitting still and staying focused in prayer are a challenge. 3) Your body wants to be part of your prayer. 4) You want to just hang out with God but don’t know how. 5) Listening to God feels like an impossible task . 6) Your mind wanders and your body complains. 7) You want a visual, concrete way to pray. 8) You Need a new way to pray.

 Here’s how to get started :
1) Write your name for God on a piece of paper. Draw a shape around it or just start to doodle. The drawing becomes a prayer space, a small prayer closet.                     

2) Add marks and shapes. Focus on the name you chose. Ask God to be part of your prayer time with or without words. If words come, pray them; if not, enjoy the silence

3) To pray for a person, write their name on the page. Draw around it. Add color, if you want. Keep drawing as you release the person into God’s care

4) Add other people to your drawing. Think of each stroke of your pen as a prayer for them. Take a breath or say “Amen” between each person

Monday, June 27, 2016

Praying on the way

Over the course of the summer months, we are gathering after Sunday morning worship for a series called "Eat, Pray, Love".  Each week, after sharing a meal together, we are learning about and using a variety of prayer practices.  I will be sharing some of these resources on this blog as well for you to use in your own life of prayer.

Pocket Prayers
Activity: take 3 items out of your pocket/bag/wallet
1)      Personal
2)      Everyday item
3)      Something that you keep meaning to take out or get rid of, belongs elsewhere

Describe each item 
-          Where did you get it
-          What is its use
-          How long have you had it with you

How might that item become a prayer?
     For example: a grocery reciept could become a prayer of thanks for a meal or it could be a petition of hope and help for all those who don't have enough to eat.

Use that prayer as a part of your prayer time or even as a short prayer as you look for your keys that you can never seem to find.

Finding/Setting apart Sacred Space:
“Be Still and Know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10)
      Most of our lives is filled with activity and noise, to-do lists and calendars.  “Jesus went off by himself to pray” is a verse that is often repeated in the Gospels which echoes the Creation story when “on the seventh day God rested”.   We all need “down time” and even just brief moments of silence and rest.
        Find a spot in your home (or outside in nicer weather) where there doesn’t seem to be as much regular activity.   Place or arrange in this spot – a comfortable place to sit and a small table.  You may want to put a candle or a cross or other small item on which to focus on the table, but keep it simple.
         This is your sacred space (it can be shared with other people in your home).  It can be a place you go to for your regular time of prayer, to keep and read your Bible, to use other prayer practices or to “just be” silent with no agenda, no specific prayers, etc. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Who to blame?

My heart aches even as my mind is numb as I try to understand yet another mass shooting in our country.  We only begin to feel "normal" again when something horrific like the killing of innocent lives in Orlando shakes us out of our blind comfort.

And then in less than 24 hours, the posts and comments turn to who or what is to blame - guns, mental health, Muslims or even "the gays" themselves?  We all want to be able to definitely point our fingers at one root cause as if it is just a splinter that can be plucked out and all our pain removed.

Life is not that simple or clear cut.  We remain blinded by the lure of blaming if we believe that there is a quick or easy answer.   And ultimately, blame will not bring the victims back to those who mourn; it will not return life back to "normal" and it will never adequately answer the questions of "why?".

In trying to "un-numb" my own brain, here are a few of my own thoughts on that which has become the focus of our blame:

Muslims - While there are are extemists who claim that their violent actions are in the name of Allah, they are millions more who decry this violence and this abuse of a faith that centers around prayer and helping others, particularly during Ramadan.  Every religion as well as other ideologies have their own extremists who will distort the central teachings for their own purposes.  We cannot blame a whole group for the violence of the few.

Guns - First of all, to be honest in these reflections, I am not an advocate of guns and would support greater background checks and limited access to assault weapons.  I am  not advocating a change to our Constituation and the right to bear arms.   While there are many responsible gun owners (including my own family), there are aslo too many loopholes that need to be changed.  No, this won't necessarily keep the all "bad guys" from killing others, but it will thrawt those who act in moments of passion and rage.

Mental health - like other stereotyped groups, those with mental health issues are often only seen as "crazy".  We want to carticuture them and put them all in the same category at the same time that we don't want to talk about its impact in our own midst.   There is not enough care and support for those who suffer with mental illness.  This needs to change.  At the same time, just because someone does have this illness does not mean that they are going to go on a killing spree.

LGBTQ folks: another stereotyped group that has endured much throughout the years - not least of which has been directed from the Church.  Like everyone else, they want to be with others who they love and want to be loved in return.  Many cannot look past the "sex act" (which we don't tend to focus on with hetereosexuality) and see this central aspect that makes up all of our lives.  Jesus hung out with those who were marginalized and shunned - he would've more likely been in Pulse than Disney world.

There is so much more than I could say about any of these foci of our blame.  These brief reflections are just for the sake of getting us to move beyond blame and towards love, acceptance and ways that we can work together to prevent  future shootings.  Blame gets us nowhere except to greater fear and division.

If we are motivated by love and concern for one another, we then seek out ways to build up our community rather than tear one another down.  Getting to know and respect those who are different from our own experiences can only enrich our lives and strengthen our country.

What will you do today that builds others up, that shows the unconditional love of God in whose image we are all created?  How  will you move beyond blame to building a stronger community and world?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Water Words

Baptism is a key aspect of our lives of faith as Christians - no matter if  you were baptized as an infant or as a teen or an adult.  Baptism is a mark of our relationship with God, a sealing of the covenant that God makes with us and with which we seek to live out daily.

We enter this season of Epiphany - a time focused on light, revelation and focus - being reminded of our own baptisms.  We read the various accounts of Jesus own baptism by John the baptizer in the Gospels (take the opportunity to compare the variety of accounts in Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; amd John 1:31-45).

Beyond the rituals of baptism, what does it mean for us to be baptized?  How are we called to live our our baptisms daily?  How is it more than one day  on the calendar, but rather a way of life?

In this year's Epiphany season, you are invited to remember your baptism as well as to prayerfully seek to dive deeply into that baptism and  your relationship with God.

This Sunday, you will recieve a "water drop" with a word on it.

This is your word for at least the next month (or year, if you so choose).  You are invited to pray that word and to seek its meaning in your life and your relationship with God.  Here are a few ideas to help you in this time of exploration:
1) Look up the various meanings of your word.  Go beyond just the literal meaning, but how else has it been used metaphorically, symbolically, etc.

2) How have you experienced (or not) this word in your life so far?

3) Who has exemplified this word to you?

4) Look up this word in scripture (not all of them are in the Bible specifically, so you may need to choose a synonmym or other meaning to assist you).

BUT most importantly -
      a) How is God speaking to you through this word?

      b) What does God want you to hear in and through this word?

      c) How is God calling you to live out this word daily?

At first,  you may not like the word or it might not resonate with you.  But give it time.  Or it may be a word that you aren't as familiar with (or for the kids, they may not understand it).  Give it time.

Pray  this word

Draw or write or find a picture that exemplifies this word.

Share your thoughts and reflections about  God's word for you with others.
       (If you have a written reflection, drawing, etc. that you are willing to share through this blog, on Sunday mornings or in other ways with the congregation - let me know so that we can make that happen.)

If you have any questions or would like more direction in this prayer exercise, feel free to let me know.  If  you are unable to be there when we receive our words in worship, let me know and I can pick one out for you.

I have been praying over each of these words and asking for God to give you the word that you need to hear right now.

As Christians, we are walking wet, changed by God's words of grace that comfort, guide, support and lead us in our every day lives.  One drop of water can change the surface of an ocean; one word from God can change us and God then works through us to change the world.