My Being #poor : Personal Thoughts

I didn’t know how poor we were.

I mean on the one hand, I knew we were living paycheck to paycheck for going on 5 yrs

I knew we have ongoing credit card debt

But our credit is ok

We eat healthy food

We are able to provide for our 3, yep that’s right 3 children

Although I would sometimes wonder (at least in my head) if there was a different decision we could have made

Like maybe saved a little bit of money during seminary? Maybe we shouldn’t have backpacked thru England on our honeymoon? Maybe we shouldn’t have had 3 children? (

But I don’t think I realized that we have literally been on the line for qualifying for food stamps for now close to five years…this is on top of our way too much in credit card debt, two car payments………and college loans which (thankfully) we don’t have to pay back yet.

We don’t own a house, we rent, and of course that price goes up every year.

I guess I’ve been raised middle class, my family are middle class, everyone is very white collar, and we have education. I have great education, I went to Seminary at Princeton, I undergraded at Oberlin. We know how to make smart decisions and we don’t have to worry about the power being shut off or not having enough gas to get somewhere (about 99% of the time at least). We make our decisions from a middle class, long-ranging, educated mind-set.

I work hard. My husband works hard.

I work full time. My husband works part time and has been trying to get full time forever working a little more every year (at one point working 3 jobs just to get 20hrs a week), oh and helps take care of our 3 children 2 of whom are still in preschool…esp. now that the kids are almost all in school, its going to be totally worth it…

Someday..

But I’m tired. I’m tired of stressing about what money comes from what. I’m tired of just paying off one medical bill and getting another one in the mail having had no clue what it will cost and having no extras to budget towards it anyway.

I don’t know if we really will get food stamps, its close. Too close, probably we won’t get it (should I not have been negotiating for raises every year?)

People act like being poor is one big bad decision, or one big bad thing that happened.

I can’t find that thing, and I think because I couldn’t find the “wrong” thing we did, I couldn’t consider us poor. We went to school, we pay our bills, we work as much as possible, we trade, we economize, we don’t waste, we accept help from friends and family, we spend money on a few things to keep us “sane” but try to continually cut those costs.

So we are poor. This is why I get so angry about the “lazy Millennials” narrative. This is why I’m so vehement about offering vacation and sick to even our most part time workers on staff at the church (we can’t pay them lots but at least we can treat them like human beings). This is why I relate so well to those who facing socio-economic problems and come to the office. The number of times we have granted a congregant/community-member a short term loan when prob. I should be asking for one for my family…..

Its not like the church doesn’t pay me, they do. That’s another reason why I didn’t realize we were poor, because my church is struggling off of an endowment. And any pastor (esp. a female) who is working as a solo full time pastor is considered a good gig, plus I get paid above the minimums which makes the job seem downright cushy in these tough times.

I must say and clarify that I love my church and they pay me well (plus the professional/personal benefits are awesome). There are obviously other factors at work here.

When I consulted with a financial adviser last year the advice was basically, your making all the right decisions, you just need to be making more money.

“just”

Theologically, I believe in the abundance of God.

The other reason I had trouble believing I was poor, is because God has been abundant with me. I have friends, I have an amazing husband, I have three healthy children. My family and I get to talk regularly, as do my in-laws and I. I am working in a field I love, full-time. I am able to be me and connect to the community. We have love and laughter and libraries full of free books. I have a housing allowance and health insurance. I also don’t want to take for granted some of the hegemonic rights that we are privilege too including high education, white ethnicity and cis-hetereo-normative identifiers.

So…I don’t know what to do with all of this. It ends up being a laundry list of data, which tends to remind me that most people consider themselves to be middle class without having a clear idea of what that means, other than being part of the American Normative…

But of course, I’m not normal. I’m a fantasy – loving pastor who is open-minded but runs a traditional service, who desperately believes in queer rights but wants to walk with people wherever they are. I’m a millennial who got married and had children exceptionally young and yet am highly educated. I have lotsa children (statistically for my generation) and yet work full time. Plus, I’m a solo woman full time pastor who loves small church contexts. Oh, and I like to dress weird.

Plus, most Millennials I knew are struggling as much as I am, living with their parents for an extended period of time, always searching for more work, learning home-made crafts and arts as hobbies.

I’m not sure what all this means…but its def. a lot to think about….

Surprise!?! #diversity, #love and #easter #reclaimholyweek

Christ is Risen

Christ is Risen, Indeed!

What a funny recitation, its as if we don’t believe eachtother that Christ was resurrection, as if its a surprise to us.

Its only sort of a surprise, it reminds me of a Stenta Surprise ( my husband and various members of that family)

The Stenta side of the family is not that good at surprises…they hate to be on the receiving end of surprises.

Usually surprises go like this

I tell my son we have a surprise for me huband

Something like, “I got a Phillies keychain for your dad, but Shh! Its a surprise

Why don’t you go and give it to him and tell him its a surprise” (all in my husband’s hearing)

That is usually as close to a surprise we try to get…

Surprises are funny, though, because they are about how you feel.

You can be expecting something, and still be surprised when it happens.

Ex: You are trying to get pregnant, and then SURPRISE! you are …

On the one hand you were trying to get pregnant…on the other hand that realization is a surprise.

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, ‘Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, “After three days I will rise again.” Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, “He has been raised from the dead”, and the last deception would be worse than the first.’ Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.’ So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone. Matthew 27: 62-66

tomb1

In Matthew’s verison, everyone knows that Jesus is supposed to rise from the dead….

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. Matt 27:1

women

Some people even believe it

And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’ Matt:28:2-10

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Even those who believe it are suprised by the appearance of Christ….

Why is that? I think its because, the faith journey is one of surprises. One where, in retrospect things make sense, but you believe and work at faith, but still can be surprised by just how amazing God is.

This is why its so hard to recognize Christ when he appears.

This is why, even though we hope & pray for it, we would be surprised if Christ showed up today.

And there is some kind of essence to this surprise/to this faith. This surprise is a part of who and what we are.

I bet if you asked Mary and Mary why they went to the tomb, they would say “I don’t know” I bet if you ask someone why they went to church that day, mostly they wouldn’t know.

Yet here we are at Easter, and all of us have gathered at the tomb

to experience the resurrection

To tell the news to one another

Christ is Risen

He is Risen indeed

This conversation, the one we have to review yearly, monthly, weekly through worship, is the very conversation that makes church because God surprises us. God’s fullness cannot be witnessed in one mere human being. We think too small. Even in the Gospels we have not one, but many accounts of what happened to Christ. None of them are considered “wrong” instead, they are considered to give us some perspective and scope of who God is and just how full, deep and wide God’s love is for us.

This happens only as we witness too and share our experiences, in essence having the same conversation

Christ is risen? (eyebrows up)

Christ is risen, Christ is risen, Indeed (affirmative tone)

Indeed, Christ is Risen (more strongly)

Then many voices, affirming the same thing, in different ways, Christ is Risen, Christ is Risen indeed.

Church is so that conversation (as opposed to becoming an echo chamber) becomes a rich and diverse reflection of who Christ is, and what Christ means for humanity

And that diversity, richness, depth of love and sacrifice–even though we saw it coming. Often God’s love takes us by surprise

#churches and #family the Socio-economics of #churchattendance

Warning: this will be rant-ish.

Know how churches don’t like that families and church no longer come first? How it is hard to get the typical family to church more than once a month?

The socio-economics of the situation are tricky, with little national health care and extremely expensive daycare it is difficult to have the time/money to invest in church. Either you are a stay at home mother/father with no extra funds or time or your one of two full time working parents who don’t have enough time to see your children and take them to all the extra-curriculars they “should” be doing.

The socio-economics are crazy, because most people can’t work a regular 9-5 job and are in and out of the house at crazy times working crazy hours.

Plus who knows if you’ll have that job or even be able to live in that city in 1 or 2 or 3 years from now.

Not to mention that most young families can barely afford to have a house or to not put in crazy extra hours or to work multiple jobs including babysitting or whatever other odd jobs they can find.

This is the reality.

So…understand, when churches do not support their staff taking care of their family. Whether it be to go to a family funeral, take care of a personal illness or to take maternity/paternity leave, that we are contributing to the very socio-economic problem we complain about day in and day out. Families who cannot take the time to take care of one another, who have to work instead of putting their family first, will have trouble making it to church.

Pastors are one of such staff…pastors are always on call, do not work 9-5, oft have to make meetings that cause delays of or missing of putting their children to bed. The hours are haphazardly put together depending on the congregation’s needs. Its a flexible job in some ways and very stringent in others.

Some typical (although not absolute) examples: if someone is ill, dying or in extremis you must be there…you may take sick days…as long as they are never when you are scheduled to preach

I know churches can ill-afford pastors, maybe its time to borrow other pastors, pay the choir director a little more or use a lay leader. Maybe its time to do a daily prayer service instead of a formal “traditional” service.

But if we can ill-afford pastors we absolutely CANNOT afford to not take care of those in need in our church…Think about that for a minute…the church claiming they can’t afford to take care of children and ill-ones…..

Thus: We can’t say we want more families to come to church–and then not support our families.  We can’t claim to be choosing God’s path and then not take care of our sick and our little ones.

(feel free to read paragraph above a couple of times)

Do we need an act of Congress to do the right thing?

I think we can do better.

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Open to relationships

My colleague Rachel Young wrote an interesting piece about being missional http://pres-outlook.org/2015/02/can-introverts-missional/

which reminds me of an ongoing conversation that I have with people.

I try, try, try to practice trust, and yet still be safe. Its a particular balance. It means that sometimes your credit and debit cards get stolen right out of the church office, because you tend not to lock. I am still uncertain whether I was being too trusting or not….I now only lock when that particular group is in the church.

However, I think that the only way to build trust is to give it. You treat people with suspicion and the likelihood is they will return the favor. Plus if you don’t take chances its hard to have a relationship. You have to say hi, you have to share about yourself. Eventually you have to share your address if you want people to come over.

Basically, I feel like that trust and grace go hand in hand. In order to trust someone you have to be gracious with them, trusting that they are doing the best that they can and being gracious when people can’t live up to your standards or do things differently

Henri Nouwen calls this forgiving people for not being God i.e. all knowing and perfect.

It doesn’t mean being stomped on either, it means calling people into account, whether its because they are disrespectful to you during a meeting or they leave a mess in the church or they siphon money off the church’s accounts.

So much of my job is being open to be in relationship with people, whoever, however and whatever state they may be in. That takes trust, and graciousness and hope. It means worrying a little less, setting safe boundaries and then building a community of people who can help you if the relationship does not work out.

But I think that is a good way to describe being a minister.

Open to being in relationship with the church, the community and the world…..That is true ministry..and one in which everyone can get in on.

No Strings Attached

no-strings-attached_2

What is #prayer?

Talking to God is like calling your best friend who you haven’t contacted in months, & the conversation is as if you spoke just yesterday

I think that is why everyone followed Jesus–imagine meeting someone who you could connect to like an old friend, and who obviously & immediately loves you.

That is what we need to talk about in Church, what if we could have relationships like that!

#Presby #PCUSA #Media & #Marketing #notmyOGHS

Hmmm…..

The #notmyOGHS movement on twitter points to 2 deeper issues.

The first of which is the utilization of stereotypes to market (even if meant ironically). The deep and complex issues of this campaign is summarized well here https://storify.com/breyeschow/concerns-raised-over-2015-oghs-campaign These are amazing issues, that are too complex to address in one blog post, please read over the variety here.

OGHSfishcal260x260

The other issue is media….some people raised the fact that an outside (non-theologically) based company was hired to help with the campaign.

In the quest to be hip(ster) and cutting edge, the denomination mis-stepped…In fact, from what I know about Millennials they might be some of the first to point to the hegemonic issues that exist in such an advertising scheme. I think this was part of the issue with the One Thousand and One Worshiping Communities scandal as well…

#wecandobetter

We can find new ways of speaking…We can do better in media…but we can’t leap ahead, we need Presbyterian marketers, we need to groundsource our young pastors to help with twitter, tumblr and instagram (FB is already passe)….

Media is so, so important…if we are preaching the Gospel we need to translate into all kinds of language–we learn this lesson over and over again.

How can we translate the Gospel into these forms of media, how can we get digital natives to do the translating? If we want to be hip to hipsters…shouldn’t they be the ones helping with the campaign (or give a substantial slice to them?)….

We have so many gifted resources, we should be using them.

The #God #Experience or Why do we do that #church thing?

Epiphany is a realization that changes you…

that’s what the Magi had…it changed them Matthew 2:1-12

Then they were brave…

Why? Because they experienced God….Experiencing God is like experiencing the stars.

calvin

We can define the stars…but the experience of these burning masses of gas, is beyond a description.

We can define God as this fully human, fully divine, who was born in a manger, and died to save us all…

but the experience of God is more than that…that is why we gather together each week…each Sunday we come together to share where we see God working in our lives!

And to try not to be-little it…not to make it small…but to magnify it. To proclaim it, to call attention to the good news of God in our lives, one who is present and active.

wings“I will have nothing to do with a God who cares only occasionally. I need a God who is with us always, everywhere, in the deepest depths as well as the highest heights. It is when things go wrong, when good things do not happen, when our prayers seem to have been lost, that God is most present. We do not need the sheltering wings when things go smoothly. We are closest to God in the darkness, stumbling along blindly.” Madeline L’engle

Bad things happen, and we are not told to ignore them(heck 2/3rds of the Psalms are people crying out to/yelling at God), but what we are meant to realize, and share, and embrace, is God’s work in & through us.

People asking about a clothing exchange that closed over a year ago is evidence of God’s power.

The church making budget every year for 3yrs even though not everyone gives what they thought they would is pure miracle.

Having a ceiling and roof repair in one year, and having an estate come through the works for a quarter of the cost…..that has been in probate for 30 years…is God at work

Every person who has heard God’s voice, every one who feels God’s work, every one who comes through the farmer’s market or the playgroup, the fact that we are getting more calls for help in a month than what we used to get in a year.

These are all God-experiences…..

They are amazing…

and its is this reason we journey together…we see God’s star in the East, we may get lost, we may need to ask for directions, we may have to go back a different way…but we are doing it because we are experiencing God.

Together!

The Waiting Room: #adoption #narrativelectionary #joseph #christmas

Jesus is adopted

http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2259 here is a good resource to start thinking things and another one http://revgalblogpals.org/2014/12/16/narrative-lectionary-dreams-and-adoption-rooted-in-faith/ …but Jesus is adopted by Joseph

as scripture describes here

This fact is so, so important in understand who Jesus is…..He’s family…http://theinmanclan.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/the-painting-004.jpg

NPR’s The Moth  recently played Jillian Lauren’s tale of adoption

(Full 12min story here)

She flew to Africa to find her child, and was terrified, because a friend of hers had just come back from a Russian adoption empty-handed.

She had been warned that some of the people in her group were “super-Christian” so she decided to cover her tattoo, avoid talking about homosexuality (because even if they were nice, they probably actually hated them) and stop cursing.
She makes the long flight over and goes to the orphanage, where amongst beautiful babies, she and her husband are the last ones called over, and finally, finally they get to meet Tariku, for the first time and plays with him all day..and then has to put him back (at which point she wants to run away with him in her arms) until the next day. She describes the promise ceremony, where they meet the mother, who is still a young teenager, and formally hand over the care of the baby. The mother said, that Tariku’s name meant, his story because he already had such a story to tell.

This put me in mind of Jesus Christ’s story…of how he is and was the word of God how he had a story before he was born and that part of adopting Jesus is adoption of the word of God adoption of that whole story of creation….

Back to Jillian and her husband…they get to the embassy for the paperwork, and they get through the line, and the clerk tells them that they cannot adopt Tariku, because they can only adopt up to 4months…Jillian and her husband explain that it is a typo and should say 4yrs, so he goes in the back….

and they wait, and they wait, they wait hrs and there is no word, they don’t know where he’s gone or what he is doing, so by now they are asking frantically for help.

They reach a social worker who listens and also disappears in the back…

Meanwhile, of course, all the other parents received their paperwork fine, they have their cute diaper bags and their children and are ready to rest up for the long flight home tomorrow…

but they wait with the couple who is trying to figure out how to get Tariku …Tariku’s new parents wait, and all the other families wait with them…and their kids all play on the dirty floor together, they all wait beside this almost family….and finally, finally the official comes back and says everything is cleared up…and he-didn’t-know-why-they-were-so-worried-anyway….

Jillian explains how this experience formed a new family for her, for while they were awaiting to adopt Tariku, the people there adopted them…….and they became family, one that meets up regularly and keeps in contact…

Joseph adopted Jesus…just as Mary became mother, Joseph waited for him, and became his father…in fact all the people who were there…all those who had been waiting: the shepherds, the wise men, Mary & Joseph, all of them became a family…

Isn’t this what we practice every year? Aren’t we awaiting a Christ who will be adopted by us, and within that waiting, those-who-are-waiting become a family….and it doesn’t matter how different we truly are, because we have Christ in common. We wait, and we celebrate with one another and we mourn with one another and we do the hard waiting with one another….We wait for Christ at Christmas, because we are practicing, awaiting Christ’s return!

“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba!* Father!’ 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness* with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” Romans 8:16-17

We adopt Christ, Christ adopts us

and somehow, through the love of Christ, we end up adopting each other….

That is what we do every Christmas…that is what the church is….a waiting room for Christ….one where we learn how to love each other as family….

Maybe that’s why every time I walk into a church, I feel like I am home

Painting from http://theinmanclan.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/the-painting-004.jpg

Loneliness & Church

Churches feel like lonely places. It is clear to me that one of the reasons that big churches do so well is because they don’t feel lonely, at least not immediately

•I have no doubt there are many reasons to explore about why churches are having trouble…therefore I am only tackling this one

But walking into an empty-ish church of mostly older age feels…lonely….

The loneliness is everywhere; and worse its palpable.

Here is the thing, pastors talk about this a lot…pastors tend to be lonely but little is talked about the layperson’s loneliness. The feeling that “we aren’t in this religion thing together” any more–we are in it alone.

Perhaps that is why the Spiritual but not religious label hits so hard….What do you mean you can do your religious thing by yourself? Where does that leave us…and me?

Religion can be a lonely place to be right now

I just watched Breuggeman’s Prophetic Preaching on the Old Testament which is wonderful

And he talks about how Prophetic Preaching is the breaking of the totalism (or hegemony), which is a SILENCE that leads to VIOLENCE with an outside voice

Good News is so important

Hope is so important

God is not a God who wants us to have to live and die and do everything alone.

Don’t let the emptiness of the church trick you.

Aren’t we the people of the empty tomb?

Aren’t we the people of the empty cross?

Didn’t God make the world out of the emptiness?

Didn’t God create space within God’s very self to give birth to us?

Didn’t God empty out her very self in the personhood of Jesus Christ to give us new and better life?
Churches don’t have to be lonely…don’t buy into it. The lie of death, the lie of not changing, the lie of security and worries about looks and judgements…..don’t believe these lies

God creates…we are called to create and be CREATIVE with God

To me that work is fulfilling, not lonely at all…

Behold I make all things new!
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