Pastor’s Note for April

I haven’t told a whole lot of people what really got me started on all this walking I’ve been doing.  Like most folks, I have known for years (decades even) what it takes to be healthy: regular exercise, a balanced diet, plenty of sleep, and time away from stress and responsibilities.  And like many folks, I was pretty much living at the opposite end of the spectrum for most of those areas.  And so, it was just a matter of time before I got the kind of news I heard right about this time last year.  

I had gone to an urgent care clinic for a sinus infection and my blood pressure was way out of control. As in, they wanted me to go directly to a hospital. Right that minute. Immediately, I was thinking about all the things I was responsible for and all the people I would be leaving in a major squeeze if I was in the hospital overnight. Or even for the next few days.  I didn’t have time for that. Who has time for that? 

So instead, I signed the paper releasing them from responsibility if I died before actually going to the hospital. Definitely not the smartest move I’ve ever made. Definitely not something I recommend.

But as I left, I thought to myself, Ok. Get past this crazy month – and if you’re not dead, it will be time to get serious about living.

I did exactly that. I managed to survive what was a really stressful, hectic few weeks, and then I got serious about making the changes I needed to make in order to live to see my 50th birthday.

There was a little bit of dying involved. I had to kill the idea – my own misguided belief that had somehow lingered since adolescence – that I was invincible.  And I had to take aim, one by one, at some of the habits that were making me sick. And I had to put to rest the biggest myth I had carried around: that I was not worth the effort it would take to make those changes.

I share this with you now because I want to say that we are past the point of antibiotics and rest. Becoming a healthy and thriving church again – it’s going to take a lot of work. A lot of energy and activity.  It will take persistence and trust in God’s resurrection power. It will take all the community and love we can muster when the inevitable misunderstandings and disagreements pop up.

But hear me, friends, when I say that this congregation is so very worth it.  You are worth all the effort it is going to take, all the pain we will endure, all the sweat and tears that are bound to fall. You are worth it because the church is God’s plan for the world to know all the love, grace, hope, and peace that we have experienced through Jesus Christ.  You are worth all that God has and will invest in you, and I am honored to be walking alongside you.

Prayer for Class of 2016

A prayer for the Baccalaureate Ceremony for the 2016 graduates of Apopka High School

Gracious and loving God,
We praise you for who you are…

The artist who paints sunsets, birds, planets, and fish in vibrant, unforgettable colors.
The healer of bodies and minds.
The parent who nurtures us, sings over us and quiets us with love.
The one who laid down his divinity to become one of us, living among us.
The rabbi who taught fishermen and tax collectors.
The leader who washed the feet of his followers.
The Spirit who enlightens and inspires.
The one who is three – always in community, bound only by love.

And You made humankind in your image…
Creative, passionate, compassionate, intelligent, focused, humble, loving, fun…

You create us to pursue passions and call us to work that can change lives and transform the world…
Musicians, teachers, leaders of cities and nations, doctors, nurses, parents, chefs, lawyers, ministers, farmers, software developers, architects, grocers, soldiers, pilots, artists

We give thanks for the gifts that you have begun to reveal in the Class of 2016.  As you call them into particular vocations and professions, we trust that you will continue to equip and empower them to serve not only in this community, but wherever you send them.

Bless the village that has raised each of these precious young people –
Parents and extended families,
Teachers and coaches,
Faith communities,
Neighbors
Employers and mentors

On the way to this moment, this evening, this week, that in many ways marks the end of childhood, many tears have been shed – in joy and in sorrow – by these students and all who stand behind them.

Hours have been spent at desks, in locker rooms and rehearsal halls, in gyms and on fields, on stages and in classrooms

Many more hours have been spent on couches, in libraries and study halls, heads in books, eyes on the prize.

There have been lectures, and lessons
There have been awards and trophies
There have been failures and fears

There have been goodbyes that ripped hearts wide open
There have been new friendships forged, relationships that blossomed, love unrequited and passions overstated

There have been car pools, bike rides, bus rides, and missed rides

And you were there for all of it.

Before pop quizzes and AP exams, prom invitations and cheerleader tryouts…
You heard every “please…“ ,
every “I promise…”
every “Just this once…”

You heard and answered those cries for help..
Sometimes that meant miraculous success,
Other times, the lessons that follow a spectacular failure.

Thank you for the ways that you have made and continue to make your presence known, whether we are looking for you or not.

Thank you for making good out of our messes, for working in us and through us in every circumstance.

Thank you that even now, as we face the consequences of our choices –good, bad, and in between – you are with us and for us.

Trusting in your lovingkindness,
Trusting in your faithfulness,
We give these graduates to you, dear Lord,
knowing that this commencement week marks a beginning,
a new season of life with new horizons of opportunity.

Give them eyes to see just how much this world needs their tenacity and joy and empathy
Give them hearts that beat with yours
Give them feet that walk steadily on the path you have set before them
Give them hands that reach out to lift up the discarded and arms that embrace the lonely
Give them voices that speak on behalf those who have been silenced   

Above all, give them ears to hear just how deeply and fiercely you love them and the faith to believe it is true, now and to the very end of the age

In the name of Jesus the Christ, the one who came to heal, feed, love, and set us free from all manner of bondage, then taught and commanded us to do likewise, we pray.
Amen

StarWard, 2016 Edition

This Sunday, we marked Epiphany at First Pres with our second round of Star Words. This time, to make sure that I didn’t get too choosy about drawing a word for myself, I asked our music director to pull one for me as he pulled one for himself and his partner.

We went on with the service, the post-church fellowship and chats that happen with people, then I got pulled into a conversation with the pastor of the Latino church that meets in our building.  Then it was off to meet the hubby for a museum date (yay Christmas gifts!).

And it was as I was getting into the car I realized… I hadn’t ever asked what my word was. When I called, he was at lunch someplace and couldn’t remember where he’d put the stars, so I said I’d check back later.

One museum date and one very satisfying nap later, I get this text:
I have your word right here in my shirt pocket. It’s authority.

Imagine one of those “brow furrowed with a question mark” expressions as I reply:
Are you sure that one isn’t B’s?

He: Oh yes. B’s is “helping”

Me (still frowning): Authority, huh?  Maybe that one is yours?

He: I didn’t pull enough words. I still need to pull one for me. 

Me to Universe: Do you even KNOW me? 

See, I have authority issues. Not as bad as when I was a kid, or I’d never make a good presbyterian. But it’s there, simmering. It comes out in procrastination. It comes out as snark. It comes out via leading in a way that avoids being too authoritarian, too predictable, too bossy.

I have issues when it comes to being the authority on some subject. Meaning- if I am supposed to know stuff, I want to really know and understand it. Even better if I can be the smartest person in the room (AKA – THE Authoritative Response Giver).

Oh, sweet Merriam-Webster, please give me something to like about this word…

From the Merriam-Webster online dictionary

From the Merriam-Webster online dictionary

Guess this one will have to grow on me a bit.

 

Naming and Blogging

NaBloPoMo Day 28: Explain the name of your blog or regular writing venue.  I think this might actually have been meant for yesterday, and I’ve reversed it for today’s prompt. Ah well…

I first named my blog “Clever Titles Need Not Apply”, but when I joined the RevGal blog ring, I noticed a similarly titled blog and decided to go another route.

The URL name is a play on my initials… Elby = LB, so I thought I might as well play with my last name on the Title version.  I have lost count of the ways I’ve heard it mispronounced since I married into the Viau name.

It’s actually fairly simple… Vee-Oh.  You say the names of the two vowels that don’t actually appear in my name.  But I’ve heard folks try to rhyme it with Meow and Mow or Pow. Sometimes they’ll give up after Vee- and pause, then just kind of spell it out slowly, as if saying the letters by name was normal.

My favorite has always been the attempts closest to view (run together or two syllables).  Partly because I like the idea of a name being an invitation to take a look.  Thus, the “Viau from Here” is a place for me to share my point of view, perspective, and general outlook on life.

It was a dark and stormy night.

NaBloPoMo day 7: Post the opening sentence of your favorite book. How long has this book been in your life?

No, I’m not going with the opening words to the novel Snoopy is forever attempting to write (which Schultz and so many writers have cribbed over the years and even launched a competition named for the originator of the phrase).

The image I always think of when someone says "first line of a novel"

The image I always think of when someone says “first line of a novel”

This actually is the opening of my favorite novel…

Even in high summer, Tintagel was a haunted place; Igraine, Lady of Duke Gorlois, looked out over the sea from the headland.

I’ve can’t even tell you how many times I’ve read The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  The first would have been sometime in high school. There were at least two runs through it in college. I pick it up every few years,  though I think it’s been since before seminary the last time.

I had fallen in love with the Arthurian legends well before reading Mists.  I adored Once and Future King.  I remember going to a book store or library, seeing the cover and being intrigued. Once I understood that this was a woman writing about the women in the stories, the book was definitely coming home with me.

I loved the magic and intrigue. I loved that I could see these people and even imagine myself in this strange world precisely because Zimmer Bradley crafted a world from nothing. There are a handful of writers who can immediately and consistently connect with my imagination that way – Neil Gaiman, Colleen McCullough, Edward Rutherford, and of course Roald Dahl.

But Mists of Avalon captured my imagination as a young woman on the cusp of independence. I was on my way to leaving my parent’s house and establishing an identity beyond someone’s daughter or sister. And these women… they were complicated and strong and grasping and every bit as human as their male counterparts. In this novel or any other.

Every time I read it, I’m a bit older and bring a new set of experiences to the table.  That this makes my experience of the characters and plot richer tells me that my teen-aged self had a pretty good handle on what makes for an excellent novel.

In the Beginning… Again

Today we had a guest speaker at church who shared about his work in conjunction with our missionary in the Congo.  His organization has spent the last several years working to provide safe water to families in rural areas that depend on natural springs. In addition to a Q&A time with the Sunday school groups, I asked him to speak for about 10 minutes during the service.

Today was also the launch day for the Narrative Lectionary for the year, which meant we were looking at the second creation account (Genesis 2:4-25).  Because of the water focus of the Moments for Mission, I decided to reuse portions of the reflection I had done for the PW Retreat focused on the Genesis 1 account in combination with chapter 2.

In the beginning…
In the chaos and the water
In the darkness
In the great mess that was the time before time and the place before place
In the midst of all that…  was love.

Love so amazing, so divine…
Love that would one day take on flesh…
But not yet.
Right then, love just WAS

In the beginning there was love and joy,
there was Spirit and Word

In the beginning there was water

And the chaos of the water and darkness was not a satisfying place for love
Not exactly what Love had in mind.

So the Word spoke
and the Spirit hovered
And the Creator laughed with joy to see order beginning to take shape

The water and the darkness gave way to Light
And the light was good

Some of the water went up above the dome of the sky
And that was good

And the waters still below the sky were gathered, revealing land
And the earth was good,
and so were all the plants that grew on this land
between the seas and rivers and lakes and streams

And lights were placed in the sky to rule over night and day,
The waters of the seas began to roll and sway,
pulled and pushed by the moon and the wind that still hovered near

Living creatures were called forth,
spoken into being by the Creator
creatures swimming and splashing, flying and soaring
And they were beautiful and blessed and good

More living creatures were spoken into being, this time on land
Creeping and crawling,
grazing and glorious.
And then came one last living creature – humankind –
The one made in God’s image.

God looked out over the water and the land
Over the swimming and flying and walking and creeping creatures
And God commanded the human beings to care for them
To care for the land and the plants that would feed all the creatures
To care for the water that refreshed and restored.
To care for one another.

It was good.
It was meant to always be good.

By the end of the sixth day, God’s work had shifted from creating to commissioning
And on the seventh day, God declared a day of rest.

This is our beginning.
God spoke into the chaos
And God spoke again, and again and again…
until everything was in place and the time was right
Then God made humankind.

God formed our first ancestor from the dust of the earth
A human from the humus.
An adam from the adamah

And then God breathed the spirit of life into this earthling
The ruach that had hovered in the chaos
now filled the lungs and heart and soul of the one creature made in the image of the Creator

And God placed this one in the garden in Eden
The garden where food and water were abundant and beautiful
The garden where the trees offered sustenance and life and the knowledge of good and evil.
God placed this one in the garden in need of a caretaker

God knew the caretaker needed a helper… an ezer
Because in the beginning,
in the chaos that was the time before time and the place before place,
There was love
There was community
The one creator was also three

It would not do for this image bearer to be alone
And none of flying or crawling or leaping or galloping creatures would do-
as wondrously and fearfully made as they were.

So then there were two, the adam and the ezer
both created in the image of God.

Generations after generation, at the very core of our being,
we humans have expressed God’s image:
We create, we speak, we love, we care,
we seek out relationship with other creatures and with our creator.

And when we are at our best, we seek the best for all of creation.
The people we know and those in far off places
The birds of the air, the fish of the seas
The critters in deserts and forests and mountains and on polar ice caps

By now, the garden is a distant literary memory –
a story that we tell, part of our sacred mythos.
But there are direct connections to the truths in the story –

The air that our first ancestors breathed has been circulating around the globe
on the winds that push dust from the deserts of Africa up into the atmosphere,
seeding the clouds that become tropical storms
It bends the blades of grass in prairies
and moves ice sheets around the Arctic oceans
And it has been cleaned and recleaned by the generations of trees in great rain forests
that act as the lungs of our planet

The water that our first ancestors bathed in and drank –
through the cycle of evaporation, condensation, precipitation, storage –
across eons and millennia…
That water brings life to desert watering holes and recharges our aquifers  

Some of the water molecules I poured into our font today could connect us back to the disciples –
The waters they fished
The waves tossed up by the storms that frightened them
The waves that Jesus walked on.. and Peter almost managed to walk on
The water that washed their feet
The water that they used to baptize the families who came to know the way of Jesus
through their preaching and teaching and healing

Certainly, the same spirit, the same ruach that God breathed into those first humans
is the Spirit that sealed God’s claim on our lives in our own baptisms
and is the same Spirit that we trust to enliven and empower
the human embodiment of Christ in this age-
The Church

so that the world might know us,
might recognize us as today’s image bearers.

In the beginning…
In the chaos and the water
In the darkness
In the great mess that was the time before time
and the place before place
In the midst of all that…   was love.

In the end
in the triumph and the glory
in the light
in the moment when time no longer matters
and place has become irrelevant
in the midst of all that… you can bet there will be love

And in between, in the now
In the chaos we humans have created
In the shadows that seem to threaten the Light
In this place and time
Here, too, there is love

The love in whose image we were made.
And they- the world- will know us by that love.

Gone

I am not ok.
I am on my bed

alone

crying.

So very not ok.

Because this grief shit is complicated.
Because every time I start to cry-
for her,
for him-
the thought of you steals in
and
the last tears never come
the ones that would cleanse me of that early sorrow
over her death.

And his.
And his, too.

But they can’t flow around the tears that come
for you.

Those never stop.
They’re never good in a queue
like good WASPy tears ought to be.

These ones come barreling through
noisy and obvious,
ugly in their insistence,
leaving me crumpled and exhausted
and wondering

will this never end?

Not this crying jag-
the separation,
the silence,
the ache,

the need to not think about you,
which causes me to think about you.

Like that damnable game.
But I want to lose this one,
sort of.

Thinking of you is all I have of you
right now.

And these complicated tears.

When ephemeral just won’t do

Today, after coming home from a conference that included 8 hours of programming that my team spent probably 100 hours planning/prepping, I found myself roaming the local craft store, picking out silk flowers and a container from the 70% off section.  I thought for a moment about handing them all over to one of my friends who can create AMAZING arrangements.

Flowers are not my area of expertise. Most of my creative work happens with words.

In my pastoral role, I craft sermons and prayers, I write, edit and arrange liturgy. The Holy Spirit does most of the work, but my goal with all those words  to create the time and space for people to experience God, to hear and respond to the love and grace on offer.  When the worship service is over, the bulletins are recycled, the sermon is digitally filed away. The words and music and people that came together in that moment, in that room, combined uniquely with the divine. And then dispersed.

As a communications director, I put words in other leaders mouths, I program conferences and meetings, I develop internal and external emails and web content. I send out tweets and status updates. I script conversations and talks. And while the content lives on in some archive or another, most of it will never be consulted again. It is for a particular audience at a particular time for a particular purpose.

Ephemeral.

Sometimes, when the work has been intense, the prep time long, and the intended audience has experienced exactly what was intended, it is hard to leave the room. The sermon that resonated. The prayer that created a membrane of set-apart-ness around the space. The conversations that moved those gathered a step or two farther down the road.  When I walk away, the moment is over and the experience dissipates.

Gone.

I think that is why I am drawn to the sort of creative endeavors at which I am less talented.: arranging flowers, painting. building models, taking pictures. Even my amateurish efforts produce something I can hold onto, put someplace, come back to and then touch again. Solid. Real.

And so I made a thing.

Coffee Cup Flowers

It is way short of amazing. But the colors make me happy. The fact that it will last until I decide to take it apart makes me even happier.

Telling my Story

i spent the better part of 3 hours trying to write one page. Granted, it was single-spaced, but that is still exceedingly slow for me. Especially when you consider that I know the subject really well… Me.

By the time you get to the end of the road toward ordination, you have shared your “faith journey” expressed  your “sense of call” and prepared your “spiritual autobiography” many times over. 

This week, I was asked to supply my one-page biographical statement for the subcommittee that will determine whether the committee should recommend me to the presbytery for ordination as pastor to FPA.  They needed my Statement of Faith, as well. 

What I write tends to flow straight from my guts/heart into the page, especially when in the personal theological variety. What you read is me, right there in plain English.

 Me, vulnerable on a piece of paper that can be shredded, forgotten, crumpled up and tossed aside.  

Me, in words that can be picked apart and misunderstood and used as weapons or comfort.

I do that every week, I suppose, writing for my sermons and on this blog. But this feels different. These people have the power to say the thing that I fear- we appreciate the time and effort and sacrifice, but no.

I don’t fear the no, per se. It’s the rejection of my offering of myself to the people who broker my relationship to the call of God on my life. 

I don’t anticipate there being issues. The elements of my story are not uncommon. There are no theological mines lurking in my credo. But these people are not the same committee that has prayed for me, nurtured my call, and coached me through the process to get here.  They are unknowns. And they are reading me.

Nothing to do but to Trust and Obey, as the old hymn says. It’s a trust and obey kind of day. 

There’s a Woman in the Pulpit (A book review)

RevGals coverLike many of the women in the RevGalBlogPals blog ring and Facebook group, I came across this community when searching for other women who were either discerning or already pursuing a call to pastoral ministry.  I had never thought about blogging, but to become part of a group of women who were smart, funny and supportive as they clearly were IN ADDITION TO being ministers, well, it certainly seemed worth learning to navigate a new form of writing. I have never made a better decision.

The second best decision I’ve made regarding this group was to download  There’s a Woman in the Pulpit, a collection of essays and other writings lovingly edited by Martha Spong, one of the original RevGals.  That way, I didn’t have to wait for my mom to finish the hard copy she ordered…

This is precisely the sort of book I knew my mom – a trailblazer in her own vocation, a staunch supporter of women in leadership of all sorts, and an elder who has offered a pastoral presence to many pastor friends over the years – would devour.  And not just because the entries are each bite-sized and accessible.

Ranging from funny to gut-wrenching, the stories told in these chapters reveal the tenacity, tenderness, compassion and commitment of the authors. Mom has seen in the book what I have seen over the past several years of sermons and posts, comments and prayers- that words in the hands of such brave and honest and creative women can move you to laughter and tears in the space of a paragraph with no need for emotional manipulation or click-baity titles.

I have already thought of five or six pastor gal friends that will be getting a copy from me in the near future. Possibly with an chapter title or two highlighted because it reminds me of them. If I’m honest, that’s what drew me farther and farther into the book: I learned more about the women I’d met already, and I found a few more that remind me of people I know, including myself.

The only downside to the book is that I still don’t live close enough to any of the authors to go hang out with them for coffee. Ok, that, and a little jealousy over the writing skills on display. Damn, these gals are good.  I suspect I’m not the only one who would borrow a TARDIS on a Sunday to borrow a line or two from a sermon.

Congratulations, RevGals!  Here’s to the next round!