Monday, March 30, 2009

A Rose By Any Other Name...

Most who read here will know that I have recently resigned as pastor of Jubilee AG and I am seeking future direction--ministry wise and financial as well.

I am asking for help.

I am designing a small pamphlet/flier that I will be sharing with pastors at our upcoming district council and eventually other pastors as well, both AG and other denominations. I also think I will be setting up a display for the "exhibit hall"--you know, where people can get information about products, the seminary, colleges, programs, and so on. This will include a little text, several pictures and maybe a graphic. The little handout will be as brief as I can make it while being informative about who I am and why they should contact me right away to invite me to speak....ahem.

I need a name. This may be foreign in some of the church traditions of folks who read this blog, I know, but not to AG folks. My husband suggested, "SingingOwl Ministries." I am not sure if he was serious or joking, but I told him people would think I was Native American or pagan--ha! My real name does not flow well when spoken, so I'd prefer not to use that.

Someone who knows me well said, "You are about relationships. You talk about relationships between Christians of differing denominations, relationships within the church, relationship with God, relationships between men and women and husbands and wives." Good point, but how in the world to condense that?

Some of you know me in real life, and some only from what you read here or other places in cyber spaces, but I confess to being completely blank. Any ideas?

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Blog List Friday Five

Over at Rev Gal Blog Pals, Mary Beth says, "On my blog sidebar is a list titled, "Blogs I Read Every Day." After my mother became a blogger, she asked me how I could possibly read that many blogs daily!? I had to confess it then: Okay, I don't read them all every day! I have over 100 on there! But I have favorites, and you do too.... give us five blogs you visit regularly, and tell us briefly WHY you like them..."

1. Beauty Tips for Ministers from the fabulous PeaceBang! PeaceBang is a fount of fashion knowledge and make up tips, and she does it with humor. I know more than one reader who would never consider being a minister but just think she is too funny and helpful to miss. So if you are looking for the skinny, or the plumpy, on fashion faux pas for clergy, make up ideas, ideas for pulpit-suitable shoes, vestment tips, blunt advice what NOT to do, and so on, check this lady out. Oh no, she is not only writing for the the females among us. Just mostly.

2. Dr. Platypus is one of my longest running cyber pals. And he is kind of an egghead, but don't tell him I said so. I mean it in the nicest way possible. I knew him years before I heard of a blog, and he has been a friend indeed, even though I have never met him, or his wife or daughter, in person. Some day I will. Dr. Darrell Pursiful knows stuff. He knows stuff about the scripture, N.T. Greek, anthropology, people, church and the Church, and much more. He can't quite figure out where he fits, and I know what that feels like. You never know what you will find when you visit. He is conservative and progressive. Yep, it is possible! And he was one of the first people to share with me what the word egalitarian meant? You don't know? Visit CBE.

3. Speaking of egalitarian and CBE, they have a blog. It is called The Scroll. Posts there are mostly from a fairly theologically conservative view, but are usually about issues of women in the church or the clergy, egalitarian marriage, and so on. CBE was life changing for me. The Scroll came later, but I recommend it. Especially to conservative evangelical folks who aren't sure you totally agree with Focus on the Family. BTW, somewhere in the archives is an interview with me by the aforementioned Dr. Platypus.

4. There is my real life friend, Much 2 Ponder, who is (obviously) a thinker and ponderer and shares some of that with us at In Case You Were Wondering.

5. Number five...hmmm, I am trying to avoid Rev Gals and Pals, but there is dear Questing Parson, who has sent me encouraging emails and a gift or two (artwork from Mrs. Parson hangs in my kitchen window) and is just an interesting, funny, thoughtful and supposedly "retired" parson. And there is the brilliant, loving, thoughtful Sally at Eternal Echoes, and then there is the totally talented and hilarious Presbyterian Gal and Cheesehead in Paradise who knows what a brat is. Not the mean kid. The other kind. And...Mary Beth and Cathy and Rachel and...oh phooey. I never am good at just one.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Grey Days

I am floored by a baaad case of stomach flu. Drat!

I am managing to occasionally get out of bed today, so that is an improvment from yesterday. Maybe it is the flu, maybe it is the blasted dreary day (again) or just a combination of stuff, but today is a really sad day.
I miss my mom. I miss my sisters (both of them, the one in Heaven and the one in Georgia), I miss my dad. I miss Josh, who we haven't seen since Christmas, I miss poor, sweet "little" Rex, I miss my friend Much 2 Ponder, I miss my church family, I miss having a sense of purpose in each day.
Waaah! Feeling like Alice up there in the pool of tears.
Something has GOT to change. A change in the weather would be a good start, God. Just sayin'.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Rexarillius Maximus (Rex)

Trinity and Rex in our yard.

Not long ago our family was saddened by the death of J.J., our son Josh's dog. And now something very similar has happened to Rex, Kris, Daryl and Trinity's great and good family doggy.
My mom and Rex.

Rex and Me

Rex was a leggy Great Dane mix--a joy to watch run and jump. He was also a very loving, sweet and patient dog, putting up with the not-always-gentle Trinity with grace and an always watchful eye. It is so sad. We will all miss him very much. I hope that somewhere Rex is playing with his little buddy, J.J.

Cheesehead and Me

For now, I'm taking some time to do some different kinds of things on Sunday. We will eventually decide what we are going to do with ourselves as far as finding a church, but in the meantime I visited the brilliant and talented Cheesehead in Paradise. Cheesehead rocks!

Her church building is beautiful-lovely stained glass, Celtic crosses in evidence in several places--and I envy CH's office. It was so good to hear one of the Rev Gals preach a sermon in person--much different than reading a sermon on a blog, you know? I did not get to meet the offspring, but I can tell you that the famous "Blue Eyes" is one handsome fellow. He can sing too. The only sad part is that we only got to visit a bit after church (and a class discussion on prayer). I have lots of questions I'd like to ask CH. Maybe next time.

Here is the essential Rev Gal Blog Pals feet picture. Can you guess who has on her black socks and winter shoes and who is sporting the classy spring shoes and a pedicture? Hint: I noted the shoes as the preacher stood on the platform in her vestments. Vestments, schmeshments! Look at those terriffic shoes!

You want more detail? All right. Here is a head shot. LOL! CheeseHead still blogs anonymously, though I gave that up a while back. Aren't we lovely? Well, we were color coordinated. (Yes, new hair color for me. I'd take a photo but I can't find my camera! :-( )

Thanks for the visit, Cheesehead. This morning I had a reminder that I was not in my branch of the church tree for Sunday worship. What, you ask? Well, I've been humming the Gloria Patri all morning. There it is again.

Glory be to the Father,
And to the Son,
And to the Ho-ly Ghost.
As it was in the beginning,
Is now and ever shall be,
World without end, A-a-men, A-aaah-men.

Nice. :-) But how am I going to get it outta my head?

Next week I'm off to a nearby town to hang out with the Episcopalians. Alas, no Rev Gal or Pal to visit. Maybe I should start a series: The Pentecostal Preacher Lady Without a Pulpit and Her Adventures in Church Land. I think it has possibilities!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Little Big Foot -- The Board Meeting

Jim Johnson plugged in the coffee pot and arranged the donuts on a plate. “I’m too old for this,” he thought. “Maybe I should resign after we call the new pastor.”

One by one the other deacons entered the fellowship room near the church kitchen. Chad, who worked at the nearby paper mill, came in looking a bit bleary and saying to Dennis, “These staggered shifts will kill a guy. Just get used to the day shift and it’s on to the evening shift, an’ just get used to that and it’s the night shift or the graveyard shift, and me sleeping in broad daylight again. Hate to think what that’s doing to my internal clock. Guess I should be glad the mill’s still running. I am glad. But I sure am tired.”

Dennis murmured something suitably sympathetic and announced that Lee was following right behind him. The two of them sat at the table, followed shortly by Lee. Jim found some cups and added them to a tray that held the donuts.

After a few minutes of discussing the recent rain, the resignation of the pastor at Our Savior Lutheran, the economy and the state of the nation in general, Jim poured himself a cup of coffee and passed the pot around the table, saying, “It’s decaf,” so no worries, Chad. You’ll be able to go right home and crash.”

Lee stretched and announced that Mary was going to visit her sister in Rhinelander so he was batching it for the weekend.

Dennis said that the Children’s Church teachers were wondering about a Back-to-School outreach of some kind.

The room grew silent except for faint slurps as the men settled down.

“Well, we’d best get started,” Jim announced. The others nodded, a bit nervously.

For the next half hour they discussed the previous Sunday’s worship services, both morning and evening. They talked about the need to find a pastor soon, noting that time was passing. In a month, school would begin, and then it would be Thanksgiving and then Christmas, for goodness sake. No one wanted another Christmas without a permanent pastor installed at North Woods Chapel.

They had heard good reports from the youth who went to camp.

The women’s ministry wanted to have a picnic on the back lawn before the weather turned crisp but wondered if they could also have a bake sale as a fund raiser.

No one spoke about Dee Anna, except indirectly.

Finally, the room grew quiet again. All eyes turned to Jim, who sighed and said, “Okay, let’s get this show on the road. We all know why we are here. What are your feelings about Reverend Dee Anna Hanson?”

After a moment in which everyone hoped for someone else to begin, Dennis said, “Well, I’ll tell you, Marla hasn’t stopped talking about her. She was very moved by what happened Sunday morning. That was God, don’t you guys think? Marla does, and I’m thinking I agree with her.”

Chad said flatly, “I like her. Not like Sunday morning was a sermon, but it was—unusual. You know. And people responded to her. Did you notice how quiet it was while she was telling her story? And the message Sunday night was good. I like how she brought out that Jesus’ was a radical. And she was funny. The teenagers liked her.”

Lee cleared his throat and said, “I don’t really understand why we had her come here in the first place. I mean, okay, I know we are a small church and maybe we won't get the cream of the crop, but,” he stopped and began again.

”Sunday morning was surprising, and I’ll be the first one to say that it seemed like the Holy Spirit was doing something. I’m all for that. But, well, I mean, you know people are not going to want a woman in our pulpit.”

“Why not?” snapped Chad. “It’s the 21st century, for crying out loud!”

“Because the Bible says a woman must be silent in church.” And we might not like it, but that’s what the Word of God says!” Lee retorted. “I mean,” he cleared his throat again, “I know a woman founded this church and all. I’m not sure what all that was about but…well, it just doesn’t seem right, women preaching and leading the church. And she isn’t even married. I mean…there’ll be problems.”

Jim listened silently as the conversation swirled around the table for several minutes. Finally he said quietly, “All right. Let’s all just settle down and take a deep breath. We never did pray when we started this meeting. Let’s pray now.”

The others grew quiet. “Okay,” Lee said. “I’m not trying to be difficult. And we all want the Lord’s will. You lead and we’ll agree with you in prayer.”

Jim bowed his head and the others followed his example.

“Lord God,” we are grateful for your boundless love and grace. We come to you as humbly as we know how. We are seeking your holy wisdom. We do not want to do anything that would hinder North Woods Chapel. But we don’t want to miss what you may be doing either.”

A quiet murmur of agreement came from Chad and Dennis.

“I guess what we are asking, God, is that your will be done here in our church, as it is in Heaven.”

After a moment the others all said “Amen.”

As the conversation begain once more, Chad was thinking that he probably wasn’t going to get a lot of sleep before he had to start on the night shift at the paper mill.

He was right.

Friday Five: Signs of Hope

Summer WILL come!
Songbird over at Rev Gal Blog Pals shares today's lovely Friday Five.

My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. Song of Solomon 2:10-13

In the late, late winter, as the snow begins to recede here in Maine, we begin to look almost desperately for signs of spring, signs of hope that the weather has turned and a new day is on the horizon. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, Easter and Spring twine inextricably, the crocuses and daffodils peeking through the Earth as we await the risen Christ.

Share with us five signs of hope that you can see today or have experienced in the past.

Songbird is in Maine, and I am in Wisconsin, so I understand what she means about searching for those signs of spring. Just see my poem a couple of posts down! There are no leaves on the trees yet, and the grass (which still has patches of snow) is brown and crisp. Actually, right now it is covered with a heavy frost so looks grey. And certainly no flowers. It was 0 degrees just a week ago, and I'm talking F. not C. Considering all this, even though I only have a few minutes before leaving for an appointment, I couldn't resist playing today--even if it is short.

1. Open water. Hooray! The stream behind our house is running along, and the nearby lakes are thawing.

2. Over at Jubilee Church, there are shoots of daffodils and tulips poking up above the ground in a little flower bed under the office window. I will have to drive over there in a month or so just to look at them. As the snow melted last week the green shoots were already poking through. If they can do it, I can too.

3. Robins! No one who has not lived in snowy country can comprehend the lift that the sight of the first robins can bring to the heart! Poor little things--I am afraid that their little feets may freeze right to the ground, but they do not seem concerned.

4. Cardinal song. Another early harbinger of spring is the characteristic chee chee chee of the male cardinal as he defends his territory. I know he is being feisty, but to me it just sounds cheery.

5. It has not yet happened, but any day now I am going to see the first tiny signs of buds on the pussy willow bush by the deck. It is a messy thing in the summer, and it requires constant pruning in order to not take over the deck, but there is no way I'm removing it. It is too wonderful to see those brave little buds pushing up through a coat of ice on the branch.

Yep, if they can do it, I can too. Just this morning I was wondering what a person does when absolutely nothing seems to be what I thought it was even a short while ago. And nothing feels stable, and all is awry. Perhaps the answer is simply to be, and to wait in hope for the Creator to make all things new once again.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sexual Crimes as a Weapon of War in the Congo

This article has me stunned, teary-eyed and feeling sick. It is graphic and very disturbing--and something we should know about. Some things are disturbing. A four year old? An eleven month old? Rape with weapons and bullets? Hundreds of women waiting for surgery to repair fistulas?

I am overwhelmed. And I want to do something, not just feel bad about this horror.

But what?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Spring Changes

It always comes at season’s change,
This sense of fleeting life and time
…and loss.
A scent of spring in air still cold,
The sound of doves and rushing water.

In bed at dawn the window shows,
The slowly changing clouds and sky
…and trees,
I watch for buds and signs of green
Feeling my body’s sense of time.

Once it seemed I had forever,
The days were sweetly slow
…and warm.
I listened to the voices loved,
Anticipating time unfolding.

So many voices passed and gone,
Those I thought would always be
…and here.
And death and loss were for some others,
People not at all like me.

I close my eyes and see the faces,
Smiling, frowning, happy, sad
…and mine.
And always time to make things right
Time to change and time to grow.

Spring pushes up beneath the ice, and
Snow as winter passes on
…and melts.
Yet, brings a sense of life that is
Not meant to last forever.

How did it happen that I now
Look back at seasons lived and spent
…and over?
Marriage, children, work and change,
Life abundant, full of grace.

My eyes look like my father’s eyes,
My hair looks like my mother’s.
I wake to birdsong bright
…and sweet.
And life seems short and swift
And must be cherished day by day.

Melancholy thoughts to greet
A beautiful spring morning,
I think of God’s eternal life
…and wonder.
What days will come and what,
Will spring’s change bring me?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

I Have This Odd Feeling

I keep feeling vaguely guilty and like I need to be doing something. Then I realize that what I am feeling is, "I do not have a sermon prepared and better get to it!" Weird. Well, after 10 years of sermons maybe not so weird? Well, it feels weird.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Todd Bentley to Be "Restored?"

Well, the news is out.

The controversial Tood Bentley who spearheaded the "Lakeland Revival" last summer has divorced his first wife, Shonnah, and married "the other woman," Jessa.

Wife number one is overweight, suffers after-effects from bouts of cancer, and is the mother of Bentley's three children. Wife number two has been called, perhaps unkindly, a "trophy wife." Both Todd and Jessa say that their relationship was not the cause of the marriage breakup and that they only began a relationship after Tood knew his first marriage was irreparably broken. They also say that they know the relationship was "premature." I do not intend to comment on that in this post.

I wrote about Bentley, and other concerns, in the post, "Stop the (Charismatic) Insanity." My friend much2ponder kindly commented that my post needed wider distribution--and I replied that this little forum is all I have. Some of what I wrote in that post applies to this one, so I will try not to simply repeat it.

I believe we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. I believe God uses flawed, imperfect, and broken people for his Kingdom and His glory (thank the Lord, or we could all just give up right now). I believe that grace is amazing, unfathomable, unthinkable and perhaps the greatest mystery of all mysteries. I believe Christian people should pray for Todd Bentley, for Jessa, and for Shonnah and the children.

I believe in restoration.

A side note: Speaking of "restoration," I admire Jim Bakker who has long since repented of his errors and labored in relative obscurity.

Restoration can and does happen. So why am I writing this post in my little forum? Here is why.

The circumstances of the divorce and remarriage, while troubling, do not concern me as much as Bentley's time behind bars for sexually abusing a seven year old boy, beating his mother, and involovement in the occult. These things, Bentley admits, occurred during his teen years. While I do not think anyone should be barred from ministry because of things done as kids, these things should not be forgotten--especially in light of the bizarre goings on in Lakeland. Among other aberrant behavior, Bentley's methods included kicking a man with stage four colon cander in the stomach as well as other violent means of "praying for the sick."

This morning I read a comment, written yesterday, to an internet post elsewhere that said Todd Bentley was clearly "kind" and "a man of God." Huh? What makes it clear to that commenter?

My concerns are these:

Those involved in the restoration were either directly involved in or closely allied with the group who commissioned Todd on the platform of Ignited Church and "prophisied" about him. Here is some of what was reported in Charisma in June last year.

California pastors Ché Ahn and Bill Johnson, along with Canadian pastor John Arnott, laid hands on the 32-year-old Bentley while Peter Wagner, leader of the International Coalition of Apostles, read a statement...Other prominent leaders from the apostolic and prophetic movements stood on the platform to show their support for Bentley and to endorse the revival, which began in early April and is now in its 83rd day of continuous meetings....[the ceremony] took place after some charismatic leaders raised questions about Bentley’s claims, methods and theology [not every charismatic leader is blind and deaf]...Participating leaders at the ceremony included...Wagner; Ché Ahn... John Arnott...Bill Johnson...and Rick Joyner...

Here is part of what C. Peter Wagner said, "I decree to Todd Bentley, your power will increase, your authority will increase, your favor will increase, your influence will increase, your revelation will increase...I decree that a new supernatural strength will flow through this ministry. A new life force will penetrate this move of God.... God will pour out a higher level of discernment to distinguish truth from error. New relationships will surface to open the gates to the future.”

I have books by Rick Joyner and Peter Wagner on my bookshelf. I am not saying that these men are not my brothers in Christ, nor that everything they have said or done is wrong. I am saying that it could not be more clear that this commissioning ceremony was a gross error and the "prophecy" was misguided (I am being charitable).

And since when does anyone get to "decree" what God will do? The arrogance is astounding.

An additional concern is that the focus seems to be on Bentley's marriage failure. This is only the tip of an enormous spiritual iceberg. The focus should be on his faulty theology, his manipulation of vulnerable and often sick people, his false claims of special favor, his acohol abuse, his questionable history, his antics (dare I call them disgusting?) Is anyone going to address the mess he has made? The discredit he has brought to the Church?

I hope so, but I cannot help but wonder, since it appears that Bentley may not have been the only one who was arrogant, foolish, or misguided, however well-intentioned.

Are there others like me out there who believe in all of the spiritual gifts, who believe in the present-day power of the Holy Spirit, and who believer that God does give prophetic giftings and leadership abilites, etc. but who wish we could just never hear the words "apostolic" or "prophetic"or "divine impartation" again? (I am speaking tongue in cheek here.)

I have read testimonies of some people who were changed in a positive way, or who were healed, or who found new strength or direction, during the so-called "Lakeland Outpouring." I believe them. I believe them because I believe that God will meet those who seek. God is loving and gracious and merciful and it is about GOD, not the messenger. These people need not deny what God did for them.

Here is the biggest concern of all. Why is there already provision made to donate funds to Fresh Fire Ministries? Why is there already talk of restoring Todd Bentley to "ministry" and to "leadership?"

Can there be restoration of something that was seriously flawed to begain with?

Post Script to Pentecostals: Here is a link to several interviews with Andrew Strom who has written a book "True and False Revival" (I have not read it, but I will be doing so.) I have not listened to all of these interviews. I am in the process. However, so far they provide a fascinating and disturbing look at the "prophetic movement" from one who was involved for over 10 years. His beliefs have not changed, but he does not like to refer to himself as Pentecostal or Charismatic, calling those terms "tainted." He speaks about how the emphasis of the "prophetic movement" changed over time, why he was involved and why he left.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Little Big Foot - Morning in Madison

If you would like to read my "Little Big Foot" posts, there is a link in the sidebar under LABELS. Click on Stories; Little Big Foot, and you can scroll down and read from the beginning.

“Charlie, get down!”

It was early. Much too early. What time had she managed to fall asleep? Charlie seemed completely recovered, judging from the energy with which he gleefully bounced around the blankets.

“Down, Charlie boy! I guess you missed me, eh?”

The red digital numbers on the alarm clock said 6:46. Charlie, an airdale-terrier mutt, barked happily.

Groaning, Dee Anna pushed the dog off the bed and sat up. Oh, it was going to be a long day. One night of limited rest was one thing. Two was another thing altogether. She stood up and rubbed her eyes. She had a slight headache. "At least I have curtains on the windows," she thought groggily.

“Mommy? Are you awake, Mommy”

Madeline was calling from downstairs. The smell of coffee wafted up the stairs, and something else that smelled of cinnamon. Fishing her robe from her suitcase, Dee Anna put it on as she went downstairs, a little unsteadily.

“Hi, Sweetie Cakes. How’s my girl?”

A pajama-clad Madeline hopped from her chair, brown pony tails bouncing, and gave her mother a hug. “I missed you! Mrs. Herndon made cinnamon toast!”

Mrs. Herndon was an older woman who had been a widow for many years. Childless herself, she loved children. She had taken a liking to Madeline from the first and had become a valued friend and helper. She turned from where she was extracting a cookie sheet from under the broiler.

“Good morning, Rev. Dee Anna. I heard you come in. What time was it? Three or so?” Without waiting for an answer, she added, “I know you are going to need some coffee this morning for sure. Have some cinnamon toast.” She used a pancake turner to plop a piece of fragrant toast on a plate, and then another. “One for you and one for Madeline. You will be happy to know that Madeline was good as gold” she said with a smile for the little girl. “Here, let me get Charlie his breakfast. As it turned out, we didn’t even need to take him to the vet. After a few hours he perked up and has been his old self ever since.”

She shared a quick critique of the visiting minister who had filled in at Eastside on Sunday, lamented the flooded streets, and commented about what Hillary Clinton had said on last night’s news broadcast. She thanked Dee Anna for letting her watch her “favorite girl,” keeping up a steady stream of conversation as she poured coffee for Dee Anna and orange juice for Madeline, fed the dog and washed a few dishes. She asked how Dee Anna’s “little get-away time” had been, but didn’t really seem to want an answer.

Dee Anna did not need to say much, and for that she was grateful. She was too tired to be very sociable.

She did hug Mrs. Herndon as she stood with her at the front door. “Thank you so much. I am sorry I took longer than I expected. What a blessing it is to know that if I must be gone Madeline will be with someone who takes such good care of her.”

She really did love the older woman. She had been invaluable after Michael died.

At the thought of Michael, Dee Anna felt an all-too-familiar sensation of hollow space inside. She ignored it and called to Madeline, who was still sitting at the kitchen table, holding her orange juice in one hand and scratching Charlie’s curly head with the other.

“Come on, I need to get you to summer school a little early if I can. I have a busy day at the church” Dee Anna called as she went upstairs. She stepped into Madeline’s room. It was small but cheerful, decorated in sunny yellow with lime green and pink accents. White curtains and trim softened the bright colors. Dee Anna thought of the purple room in the North Woods Chapel parsonage. Then she thought of the orange closet and the carpet that resembled a pizza. Sighing, Dee Anna opened the closet door and found her daughter’s school uniform.

A little later, showered, dressed, and reasonably awake, she pulled up to the Eastside Elementary School. Madeline hopped over the water running down the curb and then turned to wave good-bye as she ran to the steps of the lovely old stone building. Remodeled into a school some years ago, the building’s interior was completely functional but its exterior retained the charm of an earlier age. It had once served as a Christian education wing of Eastside Church. Michael had been very proud of the school project. Dee Anna loved having Madeline so close by.

“I love Madison. I love Eastside Church. I love the school. I love Mrs. Herndon!” thought Dee Anna. She entered the church, waving a greeting to the groundskeeper who was getting an early start on pulling weeds from the soft ground. After last night’s downpour, the morning air felt clean and pleasant. “He is going to be muddy for sure....and I love the flower beds.”

She walked down a hallway and unlocked the door to her office. “And I love my office! I love the paintings, the furniture, and the stained glass window on the rear wall. I am not going to live in some god-forsaken, little town in the boonies with people who milk cows and smell like smoke and eat venison.”

She sat in her chair and gazed at the photograph that had sat on a corner of her desk for three years. It pictured Michael and Madeline on the shore of Lake Monona. Michael held Madeline's hand, and they both wore happy smiles. It was a late summer day. Madeline would enter Eastside's Kindergarten the following week.

Michael. She leaned back and closed her eyes. “God, I miss him” she said. “I know I am whining, but you know I love this place and these people and I don’t want to even think of leaving. I do not know why I thought going up to Little Big Foot was a good idea.” She had agreed to send a resume at the request of a denominational official who was encouraging her to return to her roots. Dee Anna had agreed, wondering if it would be good to live somewhere she was not reminded of Michael at every turn.

The daughter of strict, church-going parents, Dee Anna had attended church all her life. An exceptional student, she had graduated a year early from high school and had gone straight to a four-year Bible college. She had spent two years as a children’s pastor in a medium-sized church in Lubbock and had resigned to enter a well-known seminary to earn her Masters of Divinity degree. Just four months from completion, she quit. Too late, she had realized that what she had believed to be unshakable convictions was simply habit. She was tired of church and tired of being a “good girl” and wondering if anything she had ever believed was true. She simply allowed her ministerial credentials to lapse. She wrote her parents that she was just “taking a break.”

She had found a decent job as a loan officer in a bank and made enough money to rent an apartment. She made friends with two women at the bank. They were women, she was sure, of whom her mom and dad would not approve. They were smart and sophisticated and fun. They introduced Dee Anna to Nasher Sculpture Center, the Dallas Museum of Arts and the Meyerson Symphony Center.

They also introduced her to "Deep Ellum" a fascinating place where offbeat bars reverberated with blues and jazz. She learned that she liked mixed drinks with vodka. Culture, music, and booze were an intoxicating mix for the daughter of fundamentalists.

For a while she went to church occasionally, but she soon found that nightlife led to sleeping in on Sundays, and she stopped attending church altogether. Her letters home were less frequent, and eventually nearly stopped altogether. It wasn't like she ever got many back anyway, she reasoned.

She had decided, without really thinking about it, that at age 25 she was overdue for some fun. And it was fun for a while. "There is pleasure in sin for a season" thought Dee Anna, remembering. Her mother had often quoted that scripture to remind Dee Anna that a "worldly life" would only be temporary fun . "Mom, you were right about that much. It was fun for a while. And then it wasn't. What is fun about a hangover and feeeling like you've been hit by a truck and puking till you pass out? I faked it pretty well though."

Remembering, she shook her head. "I can't believe I was so stupid. Thank you, God, for a priest doing a midnight mass. And thank you, God, for sending me to Michael."

She had a friend who had left Lubbock and moved to Madison. Dee Anna hadn’t known where else to go. She just knew, after the night at the downtown Dallas church, that she had to make changes. She sure wasn't going home. From Dallas, Texas to Madison, Wisconsin seemed like change indeed. Unfortunately, her friend had transferred to New England only three months after Dee Anna arrived, leaving her friendless and lonely. But she had introduced Dee Anna to the Reverend Michael James Hanson.

Dee Anna leaned forward and glanced at her desk clock. It was 9 a.m. Time for the phone call.

Party Hats

Trinity does not think a birthday party is a birthday party unless there are hats. Kris just had a birthday. Here we are in their kitchen, wearing the improvised birthday hats Ken made. Necessity is the mother of invention. "Papa" Ken is at the tip followed by Trinity (who has learned to say "cheeeeese"), then Kris and Daryl and then me, with Mark (a guy from our church).

Sunday, March 08, 2009

My Last Sunday at Jubilee

For those who prayed, thank you. Ken's and my last day at Jubilee went well and was a blessing. I will write a little about it. Just not today. :-) ((((Friends)))))


Trying not to preach, and not being entirely successful...

Just a few things that stand out one day later:

Last week I discovered a pile of smelly dishcloths in the church kitchen. I took them home and we washed them, and as I put them in our car for taking to church yesterday, I smiled. I mean--fitting, eh?--a last little mundane job. On Saturday I baked the bread that we used for communion yesterday, and as I smelled it baking I prayed--I mean, what is more evocative than the aroma of bread baking?

The worship team and a few others always pray with me before service. Yesterday we went into the little prayer room earlier than normal. Instead of prayer there was a lot of silliness, laughter, joking....and then prayer. That was good!

It was nice to see a mostly full sanctuary. It was good to see my daughter singing with the worship team (for the first time), good to have people stand and applaud when I came to the platform (except it made me cry), good to look out over the congregation and see many people who have come to us during the past year, good to have one dear lady say, "I intended to visit to make my family member happy, and never come back. I'm here because of you." When I said, "You aren't leaving because I am, are you?" she said no. It was good to be aware of love and grace and mercy. It was good to see that well over half of those present were under forty. The flowers in the picture were for me, my favorite flower combo of yellow and blue.

It was good, and very difficult, to stand behind the altar table and prepare to share communion for the last time. Before we partook of the elements, Ken and I prayed individually for each person present. We tried to be brief, and we mostly were, but we shed a lot of tears (as did mostly everyone else). It took a while, and we did not get out of church on time, but no one seemed to mind. Since my sharing from the pulpit was relatively short, we did all right. Almost everyone hugged us; some prayed for us when we finished praying for them. I could not pray for some people (just too difficult) and by the grace of God Ken was able to do so. It was profoundly moving, especially praying for our wonderful young people and I soaked about six tissues.

Afterwards we went to the banquet room of a local restaurant. There were smiles and laughter, a lovely cake, a check from a "love offering" etc.

Yesterday someone gave me this candle. A note with it said, "This is to remind you that...God, working through you..., was able to turn a group of broken people into something beautiful. We love you."

I cannot think of anything more warming to a pastor's heart than that!

I still have to finish packing up my office. Ugh.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Little Big Foot - Be Still

The weather forecast called for steady rain across the upper Midwest. Dee Anna was driving home late Sunday evening, and she had turned on the radio partly to keep herself company and partly to avoid thinking. Static crackled as lightening forked across the sky. Dee Anna snapped off the radio. Tee schwap, tee schwap, tee schwap… the wipers sang as large raindrops spattered on the Falcon’s windshield. "Let it rain...let it rain..."

Dee Anna had taken the morning’s sermon from Luke’s Gospel, Chapter Four: She had carefully crafted the message, working on it off and on for a week as she sat in her pleasant office. It had been a quiet week at Eastside Church, perhaps because of the unusual heat. Most people, it seemed, had stayed home. She had been glad for the quiet. The sermon was a good length. It included some humor, a pithy quote from C.S. Lewis and an illustration.

Friday afternoon she had sat on a bench at James Madison Park and read it over to herself as Charlie and Madeline splashed in the nearby water. Only two days ago? It seemed more like a week. She took a sip of her Dr. Pepper as she turned south onto Interstate 39. Her thoughts returned to North Woods Chapel and Little Big Foot.

She had pulled her sermon from her Bible and carefully arranged the sheets of paper on the pulpit’s glossy top. She had read the morning’s passage, imagining Jesus unrolling the scroll.
as he stood to read in the Nazareth synagogue.

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

She had suddenly recalled the phrase she had read earlier as she sat on a bed next door in the parsonage: To revive the spirit of the humble… to revive the heart of the contrite ones. She hadn’t thought of the similarities until that moment.

The congregation had sat quietly. Marla Whitewater had smiled at her from the front row, leaning forward with a small nod of encouragement. Dee Anna had heard a faint cry from the nursery. She had begun by sharing the Lewis quote. After a few moments she had stopped, then began again. Stopped. Cleared her throat slightly and begun again. Sunlight streamed through the chapel’s long windows.

Be still, Dee Anna.

The voice had startled her. Oh, it had not been audible. But it had, in some way she could not define, been quite clear. She had stopped speaking. After a moment had come the sound of her own voice, almost surprising her in the quiet of the sanctuary.

“People of God, would you be still for a moment with me? Can we just...just wait and be aware of God?” They had waited.

Dee Anna had bowed her head, not knowing what else to do. Deacon Chad, sitting near the back, had found her copper-colored hair quite remarkable. Silence had stretched out like the rays of sun that streamed across the wooden floor and the royal blue carpet.

As the rain intensified and she turned the windshield wipers to a faster setting, Dee Anna recalled the stillness of the little church as she had opened her eyes after a minute or two. She had seen tiny dust motes in the sunlight. Why had she noticed? The congregation had been sitting with their heads bowed. The silence was not strained or uncomfortable.

Dee Anna had not known what to do until she stepped from the platform, leaving her sermon notes on the pulpit. Oddly, she was not anxious. She had realized, without really thinking about it, that she felt an unfamiliar mix of both peace and exhilaration.

She had stood by the altar table, aware of the scent of the candle and the flowers blending in a pleasant aroma. Taking a long breath, she had begun to speak, telling briefly of her life and her religious southern family, of her early church attendance, her later doubts, her years of drifting aimlessly, her epiphany in a church at midnight, her grief and despair after she had come to Madison.

She hardly knew what she had spoken, but she knew the words had come easily, effortlessly.

Often when speaking, Dee Anna did not take much notice of individuals. This time, the red headed preacher had found herself looking at the faces of the congregation, and seeing them. Really seeing them: the Whitewaters had sat with hands clasped, Chad in the back with his friends from the coffee break, Jim and Lorene had been near the aisle, and in front of them had sat Lee and Mary. She had seen the Halvorsens, and noted that Brenda was gazing at her with deep concentration. She had seen a few elderly people, middle-aged couples, women sitting alone. Her heart had felt warm and as though it were expanding. She had almost smiled, recalling the scene in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” when the Grinch’s cartoon heart had expanded three sizes.

In the car, listening to the drumming rain and the slap of the wipers, she did smile, remembering.

She had moved behind the altar table as she spoke of how Jesus Christ had found her when she was not looking for him. She had been oppressed, blind and living in bondage—and the worst part had been that she had frantically convinced herself she was happy and had continued to run from God. She had laughed louder, got drunk more often, and worked harder. She had run and partied and played until she was thin and exhausted. One New Year’s Eve, after an night of bar hopping, she had inexplicably found herself in a downtown Dallas church. She had not been quite sober, but she had sat on the back pew and listened as a priest had conducted a midnight mass.

She had stayed long after everyone was gone, except the priest. He had told her she could remain in the sanctuary as long as she liked, and she had, gazing at a pewter Christ hanging on a pewter cross and shedding silent tears of sorrow and surrender.

At North Woods Chapel she had removed the white altar cloth as she concluded, “I have a sermon there on the pulpit. But I simply want to tell you, from one who knows, Jesus is waiting for you. He opens his hands to you, and he brings good news of freedom and hope. He loves you, each of you, and he knows how tired you are.”

The elderly organist had moved quietly, somehow anticipating the moment. He played “The Savior is Waiting” and Dee Anna spoke the words aloud, “Time after time he has waited before, and now he is waiting again, to see if you’re willing to open the door, O how he wants to come in…”

She had spoken the words of institution, “The Lord Jesus, on the night in which he was betrayed...took bread...every time you eat this bread, and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Instead of asking the deacons to serve the congregation, she had asked the people to remain seated until they felt ready, and then to come to the Lord’s table where she would give them the body and blood of Christ, broken and shed for them. She had stood quietly watching as the congregation, one by one, partook of the bread and the cup.

The organist had continued to play and many of the people had knelt at the altar rail. The deacons and a few others knelt to pray with some of them. Dee Anna was not fond of “altar calls.” However, she had realized that she had not even given one. She had waited on the front row, feeling a little out of place. "What just happened?" she had wondered. It was some time before Dennis made his way to the pulpit to offer a benediction, but no one seemed to mind.

After church, Tommy Halvorsen had proudly given her a paper sack, announcing, “It’s venison sausage. We make it ourselves.”

The rest of the day had included the obligatory potluck lunch in the church basement, a question and answer period with the congregation, a quick nap back at the empty parsonage and an evening service. Some people had spoken to her; some had not. Some had been friendly; a few had avoided eye contact.

Dee Anna had been amused to realize that the reason the morning service had been so sedate by Pentecostal standards, was that most of the teenagers and several counselors had been away at youth camp. They had entered noisily as lunch had begun. The evening service included guitars, and the drums she had avoided in the morning service. They had sung a chorus they had learned at camp. It was unfamiliar to Dee Anna, “Let it Rain.” She watched as several teens raised their hands as they sang, “Let it rain, let it rain. Open the floodgates of Heaven…”

She had been able, at last, to ask the deacons some questions of her own. She had shared a simple sermon in the evening service, and she had used her notes. The Halvorsens had invited her to spend the night at their home, having already cleaned the spare room in anticipation. Dee Anna had declined, feeling the need to get back to Charlie and Madeline, even though she realized that she would not arrive until it was actually morning. She had used the church phone to check in at home. She was relieved to hear it would be fine if she did not get there till late. The dog was better, Madeline had told her gleefully.

As she drove into the capitol city, traffic lights reflected tiny circles of red and green in the drops on the windshield. The Falcon’s tires splashed through deep puddles at the intersections. Suddenly longing for sleep, Dee Anna stretched her stiff back and sighed as she pulled into her garage and turned off the engine.

Later, curling up under a quilt and closing her eyes, Dee Anna listened to the sound of steady rain on the window. She thought of the young people of North Woods Chapel singing, "Let it the floodgates of Heaven" and she whispered into the pillow. “Ah Lord, I told you I love Madison. I love Eastside Church. Why did you have to go and mess things up?”

Sunday, March 01, 2009

It Seems Strange, These Last Things

Yes indeed, it feels very strange, these last few days with my congregation of ten years. It would feel sad, but much less strange if I knew what, if anything, is coming next for me.

In the entry is a display that includes a carving of Jesus' head with a crown of thorns, dry palm branches, huge nails and a real crown of thorns.

In the sanctuary the drapery on the windows has been changed to include purple. There are dark purple candles on an altar table....and so on. Our sanctuary cross is draped with purple.

This is all quite as usual. What feels strange is that I will not be there for my favorite Sunday of the year--Easter--when the sanctuary is full of fragrant lilies and the purple drape and crown of thorns are replaced with a gleaming white drape and a golden crown.

This is my daughter, Kris, and me as we are singing a duet together this morning. "He is Jehovah"--the song is a family favorite and has a Jewish flair.

And what an honor and joy to dedicate a brand-new baby boy to God. Here I am with his grandmother, mother, and the three godparents. I know many of my cyber friends are from church traditions that baptize babies, so if you have not seen a baby dedicated, allow me to explain. We are of the branch of the Church tree that practices what is commonly called "believer's baptism" meaning that we baptize individuals (they can be children, teens, or adults) when they make a personal statement of faith. Like those of you who baptize little ones, we do value covenant relationship with one another and God, and we take this time to ask God's blessing and care for the baby and the family.

During a baby dedication the godparents, the parent(s) and the church make promises to God, and we welcome the little one to the congregation.

Some day, I hope, someone will baptize this little person after he has made known his intent to follow Christ.

I love this picture. I am praying for the baby as I anoint his head with oil, making a small sign of the cross. His mother is a teenager and has a tough time ahead, but the church already loves this little guy, and his mommy too. He is a beautiful baby, and so mellow. Oh, not today--the little stinker bellowed throughout the ceremony, except for right as I was ready to pray for him. I usually hold the baby at this point, but I let well enough alone.. After church I saw him in the entry. He was his usual placid little self.

One of the first tasks I had when I arrived at this parish was sitting at the hospital with the family of this young mom (she was eight years old and was not part of our church at that time) as they kept a vigil with their husband, step dad, and grandpa. I was soon to bury him. And now, ten years later, one of my last pastoral acts was to offer this beautiful little one back to God. That is so fitting, isn't it?

Thank you, Lord God.

One more Sunday. This week I am packing my office. And looking for a job of some sort. Many of you have asked me why that is the case. If I can, I'll explain somewhat in a future post.