Lenten Pastoral Prayer (4/2/17)

(based on Psalm 84)


Holy One,

Our spirits long for You,

long to see and rest in Your dwelling place.

Our hearts and bodies cry out

in joyous song as we consider the wonder of who You are.


Your graciousness and loving care

extend to even the smallest of creatures and creations:

the sparrows of the air

the flowers of the field…

And we marvel that Your love

also extends to each of us –

knowing us so intimately

that You know every hair on our head,

counting them beloved.


The Psalmist proclaims that

a single day in Your courts, in Your dwelling place,

is better than a thousand days elsewhere –

that he would rather be a doorkeeper in Your house

than live and thrive in worldly wickedness.


We read these words, and sing these words,

proclaiming our desire to serve You,

yet fancy ourselves masters of our own destiny,

responding to Your hand of guidance with

the three-year-old’s refrain:

“No! I do it.”


Help us, O God.

Help humility sprout up

in the cracks of our lives

like dandelions in the sidewalk.

Help us to trust in You

to the point of full reliance,

that we might lean on You

look to You

serve You

long for You


As that humility grows in us,

help us to hear Your call

and shape our service within the mold

of the prophets and the Gospels –

that we might care for the sick

the poor

the widow

the orphan

the stranger

the prisoner

and the oppressed

with such fierce compassion and tender justice

that those who witness our work

cannot help but wonder:

“Who is this marvelous God that they serve?”


This we pray in the name of Your son Jesus,

who shows us the Way

today, tomorrow, and forevermore.



Prayer for Peace, at 30k Feet

Astronauts, gazing at the
milky marble Earth,
marvel at the yearning
for peace they feel
high above the stratosphere.

When our smallness,
our unity of home,
is placed in perspective,
our warring seems
both silly and unspeakable.

Though I’ve never seen
the world from those lofty heights,
an airplane-view provides
more than enough expansiveness
to gain clarity of our condition.

High above our compulsion
towards violence,
I see the humbling beauty of Creation:
nations without borders,
a system that lives or dies as one.

This world, our birthright,
is so much Enough…
particularly when we relinquish
scraps and shards of “mine,”
and give way to “ours.”

Let it be, Lord.
Let it be.

(originally written on 6/14/16, while on the way to California)

A Prayer

In the stillness of this moment we turn our hearts to you, Eternal One.  Yet, our questions, our fears, our pain, even our joys make us restless.

Some of us long for your shalom, that peace which passes all understanding – and wonder if our patience will hold out.

Some of us yearn for healing, a body or life made right and new – and wonder if hope is a vain thing.

Some of us marvel and bask in the love shared with us by others, yet wonder if such a sublime thing can last – our fears nibbling, slowly getting the best of us.

This life, with its mixtures of good and bad, hope and despair, wonder and fear – this life confuses us.  And yet it is here, in this muddled place, that you meet us, day after day.  We fall before you in awe, that you would enter our lives exactly as they are – that through Christ you would come to know precisely what it feels like to live with such mixed emotion.

Remind us today, and always, that in You we are never alone.  If we ascend to the highest heavens, you are there.  If we make our bed in Sheol – yes, even in the grave – you are there.  In all the messy joy and muddied sorrow of this life, you are with us – loving us, strengthening us, calling us…

Help us to answer your callings for our lives.  A call to teach, to parent, to do business with integrity, to preach, to seek justice, to heal, to learn – in all the varied ways you call us into lives of meaning and service, give us the courage to say “YES”.  Infuse our life together with creativity and hope, so that we can step into your future for our church with “yes” on our lips.

We ask these things, along with the unnamed prayers of our hearts, in the powerful name of Jesus.


Utoya… (Memories and Hopes)

**Note**  I wrote this on July 22, 2011 – after hearing about the massacre that took place on Utoya that day.  Because I was at camp, and because I felt too raw to do anything beyond scribbling it out in longhand, the post didn’t make it here until today.  Much has come to light in the days that have followed, but this post does not reflect any of that information.

In 1999, the summer after my junior year of college, I was sent to Norway to represent the Council of Ecumenical Student Christian Ministries (CESCM) at a World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) conference held in honor of a milestone anniversary of the Norwegian Student Christian Movement.  Though I flew into Oslo and spent the afternoon finding my way through the city and its famous sculpture park, the event actually took place on a tiny island outside of the capital: Utoya.

It was the first time I traveled outside of the US completely on my own, the first time I was the only US student present in a large gathering of people from around the world, the first time I found myself in a position where there weren’t others who shared my assumptions, my norms, my cultural biases.  And it was the last time I traveled internationally before 9-11.  The experience was transformative…and it hurt.  

There were various speakers called in to discuss the concept of utopia and whether or not it has a place within Christian ecumenical dialogue/work.  The talks were fascinating, but not what I carried back with me when I returned home to Texas.  What’s stuck with me were the one on one conversations, the relationships formed in the in between times.

In between speakers and other scheduled activities, we had large spans of free time to mingle – time that turned into me fielding questions and accusations about the US government’s involvement in world affairs.  Whether I liked it or not, I was the only representative of the US on that island, so every question, every grievance fell in my lap.

In particular, a Serbian student named Lazar took every opportunity to lay into me for the NATO bombings in Serbia.  He’d never met an American, and I’d never met a Serbian.  We only knew what our respective news outlets and politicians were telling us – so it started off with some rough encounters.  There wasn’t much I could say because I was so ignorant of the situation, the history, the messiness of it all (on all sides).  He’d accuse, I’d listen.  He’d raise his voice as he recounted events I’d never heard of.  I’d quietly take it in, awash in disbelief or horror or anger or grief.    

Somewhere in those encounters, a miracle took place.  We became friends.  Noting my silence, Lazar started asking questions instead of lobbing accusations.  Together, we started wading through layers of propaganda, both Serbian and American.  Together, we discovered gray in the midst of black and white.  Together, we learned humility.

Transformation took place on that island.  Relational webs were woven from that point on the globe and stretched across borders, oceans, ideologies.  Dayanthi in Sri Lanka, Marcus in Finland, Thandiwe in Zambia, Lazar in Serbia, Moatlhudi in South Africa, Thorsten in Germany, Lara in the US…we (and many others) experienced a taste of what utopia might bring.  In those moments of listening, laughing, straining and stretching, we caught a shimmer of the Kin-dom of God.


So much has changed in the years that have passed.  Though the world was never “safe” or “secure”, the specter of terror has crept into new markets.  That relational web still remains, but the ground beneath it has shifted and begun to crumble.  These last twelve years I’ve teetered between cynicism and hope – one moment knowing the hopes we shared on Utoya are a pipe dream, and another moment trusting that even in the worst of times the Kin-dom is still breaking into the world.  

And then, today, during nap time at our high school summer camp, I got word via Twitter of another attack.  Oslo is trending – a bomb has gone off in the city – and Utoya has also become a hashtag.  Today that island, upon which my life was changed, is stained with the blood of children – campers the same age as these teens sleeping around me.  Campers murdered by someone who would do anything to destroy these webs that draw us near to one another.

In the midst of this terrible news, and this consuming grief, I’m completely at a loss.  What can be done to counter such hatred?  What can be done when utopia is stained with the blood of so many innocent kids?  

I have no idea – except that I know the web must continue to be woven.  

Thy Kin-dom come…on earth as it is in heaven.

The Best Smell in the World…

…is the scent of a living, breathing, uninjured husband.


Today I’m giving thanks that my husband and puppy are alive and well.  Earlier this afternoon they were involved in a hit and run accident.  The car is likely totaled, but they are fine and that all that really matters to me.

I would ask that prayers be lifted up for the people in the other car.  It turns out that they left the scene of the accident due to a number of warrants out in the car owner’s name.  I’m not sure what the warrants are for, but they were enough of a motivation to make the driver and passenger flee the scene, ditch their car and then run from the police in another vehicle.  No matter who they are, I pray that they (and everyone in their path today) are safe.  As for justice, we’re going to spend the weekend praying on whether or not to drop the charges we agreed to file against them.

A final thought this evening is this:  thank God for all the people who went out of their way to help us today.

  • Thank God for Kelli, my friend and coworker who drove me to the scene of the accident, waited with us, walked and entertained our dog, and drove us to the rental car facility!
  • Thank God for the police officer who came to the scene.  He treated Chuck with dignity and genuine concern – and clearly considers his job to be a calling.
  • Thank God for my other co-workers (Shandra & Rodger in particular) who kept us laughing, the kind and efficient insurance agents who got us into a rental car quickly, the tow truck drivers who stopped to help and ended up tracking down the other vehicle, and all the friends who sent prayers and other messages our direction.

It’s been a rough day, but also a day when we’ve experienced the best of people.  In their faces and actions, I have seen God.

Beyond Avoidance – #reverb10



December 20 – Beyond Avoidance.

What should you have done this year but didn’t because you were too scared, worried, unsure, busy or otherwise deterred from doing? (Bonus: Will you do it?) (Author: Jake Nickell)



This year I ignored and otherwise avoided every possible opportunity to improve my relationship with my own body – a fact that is incredibly ironic given the amount of time, words and reflection I have focused on issues of embodiment and incarnation.

It would be overly simplistic to call myself a hypocrite and move on to something else. Though I am inclined towards hypocrisy as much as the next person (I’ve noticed that while most of us dislike other hypocrites, we regularly hold ourselves to different standards on an issue here or there), I can also say with utter honesty that reclaiming the body in Christian thought and life is one of my great passions. I believe that it needs to be done. I believe that it is important. I know in my heart of hearts that bodies matter, including my own. Sometimes it’s just easier to think about things than it is to actually live them.

This year fell into that “sometimes” category quite nicely.

So here I am, looking at how I’ve treated my incarnate self over the past twelve months…and I’m stuck with the reality that I haven’t treated myself particularly well at all.  It’s not that I’ve been mean or intentionally harsh – it’s that I haven’t approached this Lara-in-the-flesh with any intentionality at all. The mind has been cultivated: I’ve read and written and meditated and discerned. The heart has been watered and given room to grow. But the body? Well, the body’s been given a couch and a bag of Cheetos and told to quiet down.

But she hasn’t been quiet. Instead, this body’s been nudging me in a desperate grab for attention: wrists and fingers on fire when I write too much, hands that throb and lose their grip for no good reason, glistening white hair sneaking in like the first snow of the season… Every sign she gives points an unwavering finger towards the reality that if this body of mine is going to be my friend in life, I need to start paying attention to her NOW.

And so it is.  I can either ignore her for another year, or I can do right by her starting now. Vegetables, exercise, nurture, consistency, discipline – It’s really a frightening thing, this realization that I’ve got so much work to do. Frightening enough that what I really want is a cookie. Or some fudge. Or those magical and comforting french fries. You know, to soothe the fear…

Maybe a manicure and pedicure are in order: a zero-calorie treat for hands and feet that are about to get a whole lot more use. It’s not a cookie (or a jog in the park), but it will do – it’s definitely a start!



Creator God,

You who knit us together in our mother’s wombs –

be with us as we unravel old habits

and stitch together new garments more fitting for the journey towards wholeness.

Give us humor as we try new things (and sometimes stink at them).

Give us tenacity as we work towards endurance.

Give us gentleness as we learn to love our precious selves-in-flesh.


A Faith Worth Living…

So, I’ve been reading tons of reports on Kenda Creasy Dean’s Almost Christian (and in the near future, I hope to actually finish reading the book itself) – ministry folks as well as secular news services have picked up the story so it is gaining a fair amount of momentum.

The basic point of the book is this: Dean’s research led her to observe that many church-raised teenagers enter young adulthood with a watered down, no-risk, shiny happy people kind of faith.  When pressed, these teens and new young adults cannot speak about their faith in articulate ways and generally have a hard time expressing what it is (and in Whom) they believe.

In other words, they’ve been taught to fake it.

And who did that teaching?  In a word:  us.  The parents did it.  The youth ministers did it.  The Sunday school teachers and senior pastors and grandparents did it.  We all share the blame.  It could be fear.  It could be ignorance.  It could be wishful thinking.  But whatever the reason, we’ve given these kids a picture of a god who doesn’t match up with the great I AM of scripture.  Kenda Dean and her colleagues call it “therapeutic moral deism” – belief in a great therapist god who doesn’t ask much of us (if anything at all), a god who simply wants us to be happy and be vaguely good.

We don’t demonstrate a passionate love for this god (in part because there is nothing passionate about such a deity), and consequently our kids don’t catch a passion for this god.   And then we wonder why they leave the church and never come back.

Unfortunately, so many of us have got it all twisted around.  I don’t believe we purposefully present children and teenagers with a false god – that we are living idolatrous lives on purpose.  Instead, I believe that most of us start off with the best of intentions – we really do love God and want what’s best for our kids.  We just don’t necessarily know what that is, or what it looks like – or we are afraid of what it looks like.

For example, it is an incredibly powerful and sacrificial statement for a parent to say “I want my child to be a Christian” and truly mean it.  Because while conventional wisdom says that you should want your child to always be happy, to stay out of trouble and to get into the right college so that they can get a high paying job and be successful… well, the reality is that kids who fall in love with a risky, sacrificial Gospel are going to fall down, get their hearts broken, and make decisions that draw the notice of society’s gate-keepers (and sometimes the church’s gate-keepers).  And kids who fall in love with the radical message, life and love of Jesus… well, they might not decide to follow the stable career path, opting instead to live out a life marked by fruitfulness rather than success.  They might become activists, artists, care-givers, or even (say it ain’t so) professional ministers of one variety or another.  In other words, they might not be financially stable in the traditional understanding of the phrase.

This is not to say that kids can’t choose to be faithful doctors, faithful lawyers, faithful business women… they surely can be.  And faithful Christians can achieve high levels of success, earn large salaries and receive public acclaim.  A few of us minister-types even become moderately well-known and celebrated.  But eventually, a life of lived-out passionate Christian faith and love requires you to make decisions that don’t go with the flow, don’t fit the ways of the world, and don’t make a whole lot of sense to good sensible people.  Eventually there will be days and seasons when it’s not all roses and you’re being lambasted for the choices you’ve made out of faith – times when some people (even close friends) will deny you, and you’ll find you’ve got a cross to carry.

The point is that a life spent loving God and following Jesus is so much deeper than the fluff that’s been floating around out there (and in here).  It is both risky and worth risking for.  It is both challenging and worth challenging the Church for.  It is worth living for – and in some places, situations and times, it has been worth dying for.  By following the great I AM (not doing good things because of some bland or moralistic sense of right and wrong, but instead living a life of love, compassion and justice because God loves these things), by living out the WAY that Jesus showed us through his life, ministry, death and resurrection… and by believing in the creative and saving power of God – by living this kind of faith, we model and teach something that kids can sink their teeth into.  A faith with substance.  Something worthy of passion and commitment.

Enough with fluff and fear.  Let’s help our kids find a faith worth living.

Ash Wednesday Hopes, Wendell Berry Style…

If a person can truly be transformed during the season/practice/grace of Lent,

Wendell Berry knows the Lara I hope to become:



(by Wendell Berry)

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay.  Want more
of everything ready-made.  Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more.  Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you.  When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute.  Love the Lord.
Love the world.  Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag.  Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand.  Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium.  Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into mold.
Call that profit.  Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world.  Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable.  Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade.  Rest your head
in her lap.  Swear allegiance
to what is nighest in your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it.  Leave it as a sign
to mark a false trail, the way
you didn’t go.  Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.

Practice resurrection.

In Sickness and in Health…


Typically, ministers and military personnel have at least one thing in common: we know how to move, and we know that it is likely we will move several times during our careers.

In some ways, these moves are similar. Our families are uprooted (or they are forced to change our entry in the family address book), our houses are littered with boxes and packing paper and we must say “goodbye” or “until we meet again” to friends and co-workers. But, for some in the branch of service called “ministry”, there is a very different component to such wanderings, especially when a move sends us to another state – in other words, we must search anew for health insurance.

This year, my husband and I embarked on such an interstate journey, leaving a beloved community behind and heading into the great unknown of new church, new city, new house…and new healthcare. While I was excited about this new call, the healthcare question left me in a full-blown state of the jitters. My denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), has a health care program for its ministers and church employees – but this plan is rather expensive. As is the case in most denominations, a large percentage of our ministers are older and often in need of considerably costly healthcare, and this means that younger ministers and their families take on a portion of those higher costs in order to care for the many.

This arrangement is a worthy sacrifice in the quest to care for so many of God’s servants – but it is also one that is sometimes impossible for younger, lower-paid ministers who bear the additional burden of substantial student loan debt (ah, the price of seminary!) and high-dollar rent. Many ministers just can’t make their budgets work without finding insurance through different providers.

As one of those under-paid and highly indebted ministers, I had made the decision a couple years ago to leave the denominational plan and join one of the larger insurance giants. It grieved me to do it, but at the same time I could insure both myself and Chuck for nearly the same price as individual coverage in the church-wide plan. With the state of our budget, that decision was a no-brainer.

But joining the behemoth had its costs. In the time that we were at my old church, Chuck and I had developed some health issues – and though they were relatively minor, when the time came to apply for new insurance in a new state, we were stamped with the pariah-mark: “pre-existing condition.” On top of that, the program in our new state would only offer maternity coverage if we purchased the most expensive plan and waited for two years before conceiving. Apparently, being a woman of child-bearing age is, in and of itself, a pre-existing condition.

I was crushed. I was angry. I was dumbfounded and terrified. And I was privileged. For, in the middle of all the nonsense, my new congregation was paying me a living wage, AND they would pay a huge portion of any plan I chose, AND the companies still deemed me worthy of insurance (albeit insurance at a high price) – a right that everyone has but so many are denied.

Ultimately, my husband and I rejoined the ranks of those insured by our denomination’s plan. While they are more expensive in some ways, they don’t penalize for pre-existing conditions and they treat pregnancy as a natural part of human life (just as illness is a natural, though unwanted, part of our existence). We are covered, and we are grateful for it.

Still, this experience leaves me with so many questions and so much outrage. What about the millions of people who can’t afford or gain approval for coverage of any kind? And what about the members of my own congregation who pay for my care but can’t afford care for themselves and their families? As one who bears the yoke of justice-seeking for all of God’s children, I find no justice in this arrangement despite the relatively happy resolution of my own situation.

The facts of the matter are these:

  • Until maternity is no longer considered a disease, I am not well.
  • Until people who are sick are treated as human beings instead of being “othered” by labels like “pre-existing condition,” I am not healthy.
  • Until all can receive good and affordable healthcare, I am not whole.

God of healing and wholeness, let that day come…

(This essay was originally published on November 5, 2009 in the Divine Details column of Fidelia’s Sisters, the online journal of the Young Clergy Women Project.  You can read this essay and more articles by young clergy women from a variety of denominations by visiting www.youngclergywomen.org )


Whispering God,
your wisdom rustles through
the river reeds
and nudges us with watery tongue
when we stand upon the shore.

Help us hear you.

Laughing God,
your mirth resounds in
songbird gaiety
and bubbles forth from
chortling babes.

Help us hear you.

Shouting God,
your passion roars with
crashing wave
and pounds the senses
with avalanche crashing.

Help us hear you.

Thinking God,
your contemplation hangs
in the silence before morning
and pulsates through
misty mountain meadow.

Help us hear you.

You, O God,
Are in everything we hear,
If only we will listen.
Give us new ears and
work a new hearing within us
That we might be filled with wonder
as we receive strains of You
in your melodious creation.

Help us hear you.