Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Strangers Conquer Ovidophobia

The human connection. Astounding. It can make us feel whole when our world is in pieces. It can remind us that God loves us in a profound way that we can only glimpse. And, it can allay our most irrational fears.

Yesterday I was riding my bike. I do this several times a week, and there's one stretch I usually ride on which I use the sidewalk. I have justified this to myself by reasoning I'm more likely to be hit by a car on a busy road than actually to be swallowed by a snake. Besides, the sidewalk was made for such a purpose.

Yes, I did say "swallowed". It stems, I believe, from that song I learned in kindergarten: "I'm being swallowed by a boa constricter...and I don't like it very much!" Also, I blame it on my dad and Eve. I share it with thousands of others, maybe millions, as it is the most common phobia--not necessarily being swallowed, but a fear of snakes. Believe me, I don't plan ever to be close enough to one to be bitten, so I'm not afraid of that!

Anyway, this sidewalk has the busy street on one side, and a field with horses on the other, for a ways; then a few businesses and homes, then dips down into a low water crossing and up where a tall bushy hedge grows. Now, when I lived up north, if I heard a rustling in the grass or leaves, I assumed it was a squirrel; now I assume it's a snake, lying in wait to swallow me. I plan my route in such a way that I really do ride this stretch almost every day. Yesterday, I decided to try to ride through it quickly, rather than slowly. I have trained myself to look neither left nor right, just straight ahead, so maybe if I ride fast enough 1) I won't see any snakes and 2) they won't catch me.

As I was pedaling along, I met a pedestrian. I did slow down and keep right, so he and I could both share the sidewalk. Then I met another cyclist. Seeing both of them made me feel much better. I figured at the very least they both had scared off any snakes that were waiting for me at the other end of the path. Plus, it reminded me that the sidewalk is probably used by humans, not snakes--people like me who are enjoying the mornings when it's below 70 degrees here for a few hours, people whom I may never see again but with whom I share this sidewalk for a few moments. And in that sharing, they have changed my day, allowed me to relax a bit, diminished my irrational fear.

It doesn't take much--time, energy, effort--to make a difference. I suppose God has known that all along; may we remember it today, as we grace the world with our presence.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

RIC: It's about being Church

I've been happily busy doing promotion for the upcoming Reconciling in Christ Facilitator training, so I thought I may as well promote it to you, too.

Back up a step: Reconciling in Christ is a roster of congregations, institutions, agencies which are publicly and intentionally welcoming of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and allies. For reasons I can name but not understand, why this is such a problem is beyond me, but it is a difficult conversation in many places. So, Lutherans Concerned/North America has developed an extensive and very effective process to use so that this conversation will be transforming rather than divisive, no matter the outcome. Next January 12-15 (2007) training for this process will be held in Austin. I highly recommend it to any of you who are committed to having this conversation and seeing change happen in your congregations. It is not something you can wait for someone else to do. There are very few denominations and congregations that welcome GLBTQA openly; the express welcome stated publicly by an RIC congregation can make a huge difference in the life of someone who doesn't think he or she can go to church or be loved by God. So, go to for more info and to register, and come to the training!

Tonight our group went to Lutheran Campus Ministry at UT. They are one of only 3 congregations out of 175 in our synod which are RIC. Actually, they aren't officially a congregation, but they are committed to outreach to and inclusion of GLBTQA in their ministry. About 50 students came to dinner; 5 stayed for the presentation about RIC. Next week I'll be doing a presentation at LCM-Texas State.

Besides the fact that I have a heart for young adults, I believe you are so important in this conversation because the issue is framed entirely differently in your reality, and it isn't as scary or prohibited as a general topic of conversation. I also know that you will be active in congregations, and valued there for your leadership, and you can make a difference in which of your friends are welcome to attend worship with you. RIC frees a congregation to be what church should be: followers of Jesus gathered together for worship, prayer, and service. Many congregations who decide to be RIC discover that this difficult conversation makes them stronger as a whole and opens doors to many "others" who formerly did not feel welcome. To me, we are most faithful when we look like the body of Christ, which means no one is left out.

I hope you will consider attending this training. At least go to the web site and learn more about RIC. Maybe there's an RIC congregation in your area--maybe you'll intern at one, or lead one to being RIC. Now is the time!

Thursday, September 07, 2006


Often they are the bane of a pastor's existence, mostly because they are the life event over which pastors have the least control. Our problem is that we pastors think of them as a liturgical worship service, while many who are wearing the fancy clothes think of them as an event that is all about them. If they don't, their mothers do, and now wedding coordinators have gotten in the mix, leaving the pastor very little to do besides what she is ordered to do, which has been prescribed by a deadly combination of fashion magazines and Disney.

OK, I'll stop with the cynicism. I have presided at some exceptionally wonderful and inspiring weddings, and overall, I do enjoy them. (Remembering what it takes to get them all together always makes me glad to be on the far side of the altar!) A wedding is something we fret about for longer in our lives than many other events; why all the fuss? Why do we do this, anyway?

(I'll pause here to acknowledge that many of my known readers don't even have this kind of commitment on their radar; and some have done and survived it; and some despair that it will ever happen to them; and some don't think the law or church will "let" them. But, as I'm preparing for one of the less conventional kind, it's on my mind.)

Why do we bother? Getting married, blessed, united, whatever you call it, is essentially a function of the state. It's a legal contract that affords you certain rights and responsibilities; at the end of a heterosexual wedding, we sign a LICENSE. Of course, you think you're doing it because you're in love and can't imagine not waking up with this person for the rest of your life, which, fortunately, has a lot to do with it. It IS about a relationship, about challenging yourself to work at life and love with another person. The ceremony itself,however, is not about being in love; it's about being in relationship. The reason pastors do weddings is that we want you to know that this is a big deal, that God thinks it is a big deal, and God is there with you. Humans can't possibly maintain this kind of thing without divine intervention. But there's more: God supports our relationships not by lightning bolts but through the community--those who show up to drink your free keg beer at the reception. But first, they go to the ceremony, to see that you're doing this, to offer their support by their presence (not presents, which are simply a bonus).

So, for all of you who want a simple little ceremony with just a few friends, or who want to elope, I say, no way. (OK, if you want, go ahead.) But, if you're inviting a pastor to show up, you're going to get God and theology and community and blessing in your face. It isn't all about you; it's all about everybody who's involved, who, by sitting there, have to come out and admit they're in this with you, for better or for worse. And oh yes, God will bless you, which doesn't mean it will be easy, but it will be good.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Wisdom and Insanity of Age

I used to be 23.

That was the year I started seminary. This was a goal, a dream, toward which I had worked for 7 years by then. Finally getting there was good, no, great, but required big changes. I had to leave my community, my friends and family, my job--yet another identity crisis. But, when I arrived there, I felt a peace I had never felt before, or since.

Sure, I enjoyed the studying, the new friends, the shared interest in faith and theology. We talked about "call" and "discernment"--what and who did God want us to be, and how were we to get from here to there? At 23, we weren't sure, but it all seemed possible, even said so in the Bible. (Luke 1:37)

Well, now I'm graduated, ordained, called and re-called, and find myself with the same questions at 40. Who and what does God want me to be? Am I called to something, or do I just do what I "feel like"? I still believe in all the mystery and excitement that got me to seminary, but I was hoping, by this time in life, to have more answers and fewer questions, a more solid sense of identity. Sigh.

Some of you know I'm a control freak. I suspect in these times of wondering, God is trying to remind me that She knows what She's doing, and She doesn't have to tell me if She doesn't want to (I suppose that's one definition of "God"). And so, I will continue to pray for the confidence and excitement that accompanied all those questions at 23, to replace the anxiety and grief that creep in so readily at 40. Thank you for being 20-something for me, my friends who are in that category; I need to rejoice in your youth. It was in the midst of such fun and frenzy that I first answered and followed that call, which led me to you and your questions. For that I am ever grateful.