Friday, March 27, 2009


So, I admit it -- I was in a bad mood. I didn't want to be there, and I didn't want anyone to talk to me. And more than that, I wanted to judge them all for NOT talking to me. All I wanted to do was find the door and get out, but I was stuck in a far corner and would have to pass by far too many people in order to sneak out.

I was on the third story of a church. A HUGE church. A church with escalators. Outside the room was a coffee bar area, where I'd just heard a woman ask for a second glass of white wine. At 9 a.m.

And did I mention this was a dream? No... well, it was.

I chuckled slightly at the woman with her white wine, but quickly resumed my bad mood as I walked into the room and painstakingly found a seat alone, in a corner. The set-up was rather restauranty. I was on the edge of a booth-like seat that went across the entire back of the room. In front of me was a small, two-person table with a chair on the other side.

"Get ready, the street smokers are coming," someone said. Even in dreamland, such a statement seemed odd. Street smokers? What does that mean?

Apparently it meant a group of folks in their early 20s with various shades of blue and pink hair who stumbled into the church either drunk or high, or both. Perhaps they were invited by white wine woman.

Anticipating the stench of old cigarette smoke, I wasn't thrilled about these folks invading my space. Especially since all I wanted to do was leave. But my corner is where they landed.

As soon as I looked at the girl next to me, my entire attitude changed. I've often heard it said that people look as if they were carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. If that is said about the averaged stressed-out person, this girl was carrying the entire Milky Way (the galaxy, not the candy bar). I could feel tears welling up.

"I don't even know this girl, why should looking at her make me cry?"

She looked at me, lip twitched it what seemed to be a greeting. Her gaze went back to the floor. Or through the floor. Or whatever it is that one is looking at when s/he is obviously not seeing what is right there.

"Are you okay?" I finally voiced.


I placed my hand on her back, an awkward attempt at humanity and interaction. She lost it. Though we had never met, she crumbled into my embrace and cried. After a few moments she asked my name. "Jennifer. What's yours?"

"I don't have one."

Don't have a NAME? Is that possible?

She began telling me a story about a past relationship, although "relationship" is a loose term here. A member of the clergy had apparently won her trust and then abused her. It was hard to make out many of the details, her cries muted and muffled the words she was trying to say. But somehow this person, this hurt was connected to her not having a name.

Instantly, I saw myself walking under trees, with beautiful pink blooms. It was peaceful and beautiful "I have called you by name" echoed in my mind.

And I woke up. I don't think I have ever felt as much in a dream as I did last night.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

An unconventional search for building materials

I'm a thief. I admit it. I like taking things from other traditions and implementing them into my own life. Most recently, I'm stealing from the Catholics. More specifically, I'm stealing the Saints -- especially Francis.

I've been slowly making my way through Chesterton's "Saint Francis of Assisi." I've always had an affection for St. Francis, built upon references to him in song -- or the fantastic signs around San Francisco (gee, wonder where that name came from...) quoting him as reasons to care for the homeless.

My favorite St. Francis story so far is the beginning of his monastic journey. He felt called to fix the church, so he set about doing so in a literal manner -- sold a bunch of his father's cloth to get the money and was flatly refused when he offered it to the church for rebuilding/renovation work.

When his father found out, he took Francis to court. Francis literally stripped down, handed his father his clothes (as his father had provided them) and essentially said "to this point, you have been my father, but now my father is God in Heaven." And he walked away.


I imagine quite a few people were around. I can't help but wonder what they were thinking. Francis was apparently a really likeable sort of fellow. He was a singer-poet type who never quite seemed to get money. He'd either spend it all at once or rush off and give it all away. And now, he's completely lost his mind and handed his father everything he was wearing. In public.

While I'm quick to judge the father, I'm guessing he was really like most of us. He thought his son was being irresponsible -- after all, he needed the money from his business in order to provide for his family.

I imagine there were a lot of giggles. A lot of bewildered looks and one flabbergasted father. Was he embarrassed? Was he merely ashamed of his son?

Chesterton gives the impression that Francis thought nothing of walking out naked. He just walked down the street, through the woods and ended up at the door of a priest. I don't know many priests today who expect folks to show up at their door NAKED.

It's completely ridiculous.

And I think it may just be what the Kingdom of God looks like.

And, by the way, Francis did continue efforts to fix the church -- he began begging for building materials and showed up to do it himself. "Wasn't that the guy who walked out of the courtroom naked?" "Yeah, I think so! We should give him bricks..."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Quenching thirst

Last Saturday, my running buddy Tiffany and I were excited to have a Spring-like day for our 8-miler training run. After about mile 3, my saliva turned into paste, and she commented that her mouth was turning to cotton. Our trail suddenly transformed into a virtual desert and we began having hallucinations about families standing beside creeks (no wait, we really do run by a creek...).

Our new goal became making it to the comfort station, where we knew there was a water fountain. By the time we arrived, we were imagining exactly what the water would taste like and how it would feel. I pressed down on the magic water fountain button and... nothing. I waited a few seconds and tried again. The abundant streams of water I had been fantasizing about never came. The fountain was dry.

So we looked at the door... of course! The bathroom. We each cupped our hands under the sink and cringed at the not-so-pleasant taste of the sink water, assuring ourselves we were only four more miles away from Schnucks -- the neighborhood grocery store that had not one, but TWO water fountains in the front hallway.

We vowed never to go on a long run without our fuel belts -- featuring small water bottles -- again.

Sunday, March 22 is World Water Day. My ridiculous running story is about all I know about thirst, but my friends at WaterPartners remind me that 884 MILLION people still don't have access to safe drinking water. Each year, over 3.5 million people die from water-related disease.

While I am running and marking drinking spots along my route, millions of women and children have to walk miles to find ANY water -- and often, their sources aren't nice comfort stations, but polluted water sources.

I share these statistics, not to overwhelm, but to encourage your help. For just $25, you can provide someone will clean water for the rest of his/her life. Visit my firstgiving page to find out more and donate.

You can also help simply by searching the Web. is a search engine powered by yahoo. Thanks to advertising revenue, they are able to donate approximately 1 cent for every Web search you do. I GoodSearch for WaterPartners, I encourage you to join me. GoodSearch also has a shopping feature, allowing some of your purchasing dollars to be donated. In the last two years, an estimated $134 has been contributed to WaterPartners just through Web searches.

Join me in saving lives.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Born to sing

(cross-post from my running blog)
"I was born; I was born to sing for you..."

I can always count on U2 to boost my energy level and lift my spirits. As I drove to the trail to meet Tiffany for our 5:30 a.m. run, Bono and the boys were busy making sure I was awake.

U2's song "Magnificent" blasted from the speakers. And I thought about the idea that I was born for God's enjoyment.

Several Christian fantasy writers (Madeleine L'Engle and C.S. Lewis to name a few) have touched upon the idea of God singing the world into creation; that there is some song at the heart of the world that we catch glimpses of in our best moments.

In a recent conversation with a friend, we discussed the beauty of nature. My friend suggested that he sees an example of faithfulness in the created world, as the trees are doing exactly what they are designed to do. In the most basic of terms, it is an act of worship. "Even the rocks cry out."

As Tiffany and I set out in the dark, I thought about the different parts of my body doing what they were designed to do; the information traveling from my brain to my legs and back to my brain; my lungs expanding and contracting; my heart rate rising as blood pumped through my body...

The trees, the creek, the human body all do what they were designed for... and it all happens involuntarily. Water doesn't think about rushing over the stones; trees don't ponder whether or not they will grow; I don't consciously tell my body to take in more air or pump blood faster...

And yet, when it comes to the human will, we have a choice. I may have been born to be with and sing for God... but am I? Will I?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Paddy's Green Shamrock Shore

My Baptist roots haven't taught me much about the Saints. My pastor growing up preached about telling the congregation to turn to their neighbor and introduce themselves as "Saint (insert name here)." One man turned to his neighbor and suggested he didn't want to refer to himself as a saint. The neighbor urged him on, saying that we are all saints through Christ. "No, you don't understand," the man replied. "My name is Bernard."

And the collective groan rattled the building.

I'm thankful that more and more evangelical types are realizing that protestants made a mistake in trying to flee from all things "Catholic." Hard to run from church tradition without dropping essential life-giving elements of faith along the way.

In attempt to reclaim some of those deep and beautiful traditions, I've been trying to read about the great men and women of faith.

Due to the time of year, Saint Patrick has been the latest to jump across my radar screen. He was captured at age 16 and taken to Ireland as a slave. He managed to escape and return to Britain at around age 20.

BUT, he had a dream where the people of Ireland begged him to come back. So he studied to be a priest and, after being ordained a bishop, returned to minister in Ireland.

And while he did amazing things in Ireland, my fascination lies in his willingness to return to the land where he was a slave. I wonder what it takes to do that. What were his thoughts? What kind of advice did his family offer? emphasizes that Patrick was a man of prayer. During his captivity, he prayed continuously.

"The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was rosed, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same," he wrote. "I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain."

Patrick had the sort of faith -- the sort of love -- that erased "us/them" borders. The Irish weren't "those people who imprisoned him," but beloved brothers and sisters. In fact, according to St. Patrick's confession, he viewed his time in slavery as punishment from God for neglecting his faith -- as well as a wake-up call, giving him the opportunity to turn to the one who "watched over me as a father would a son."

This St. Patrick's Day, I celebrate a man who took a bold step in faith, and a God who inspires love that crosses all divides.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

On life and death

I've found myself revisiting a favorite poet this week. I've been fond of John Keats since a high school English teacher discussed "When I have fears" with us. That poem remains one of my favorites, and I find myself turning back to it every now and then.

I always feared my lit professors would worry about my mental health since I always tended to write papers about death. I not only wrote about "Fears" in my Romantic Lit class, but I wrote diary entries from the perspective of Fanny Brawne in response to letters Keats wrote -- and reflecting on his death.

My ethics professor has suggested that we cannot help others walk toward death until we have thought about our own. I'd also suggest that life doesn't make a lot of sense without pondering the end -- when we have "shuffled off this mortal coil," as Shakespeare would say.

Sunday evening I received the news that a pastor (Fred Winters) in Illinois was shot and killed during the Sunday morning service. My editor, who knew the man for 20 years, had only good things to say about his character. But I have found the church's response to be even more telling. In report after report, I have seen urgings from the church to pray for the young shooter. Their first response -- along with deep grief -- has been grace.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Fred, but I can't help but think the response of his church must be a result (in part) of the life he lived. He didn't know that Sunday would be his last day in the pulpit, his last opportunity (here, anyway) to kiss his wife and hug his kids. But I think his death showed that he knew something about the art of living.

As David Bazan sang in the Pedro the Lion song "Priests and Paramedics," "We're all gonna die / could be twenty years, could be tonight." I find myself wondering what my death will say about me.

In a recent issue of the Baptist Standard, editor Marv Knox asked if the community would notice if your church were to disappear. Would the community -- or the church -- notice if *I* disappeared? Am I living my life in a way that brings good news? In a way that brings "up there" a little closer to the "down here?"

I wrestle often with how I am to live, and I am thankful for the Fred Winters among us who inspire us to live with more love and more grace.

May God comfort those who are mourning, and may God teach us all how to love more deeply.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Things that make me smile today:
* hints of Spring * Bigelow's Vanilla Caramel tea * strawberries * songs based on "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" * a job I enjoy * watching kids and parents march across the parking lot of the dentist office next door * baby Dino * the baby from this year's king cake * missional conversations * sunflowers * accidental voice mail messages * found poetry * The Peace Book * One More Mile running apparel * Tom's shoes * e-mailed mix albums from Chad Thomas Johnston * a box labeled "big smile" * Madeleine L'Engle * the time/space continuum * girls' night at the theater * John Keats * etsy * prayer *

What made you smile today?

EDIT: In honor of National Grammar Day (which, unfortunately, I missed...): Strong Bad grammar songs!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A missionary's what?

We were laying on sleeping bags looking up at the stars. Miles away from the nearest electric light, the stars had no competition and dazzled us with clarity and brightness we never experienced at home. "Do you think women can be pastors?" someone asked.

On a mountain in Panama, a diverse group of students from a southern Baptist college were pulled from the never-ending sky into a black hole of controversy.

Years before, I was pulling weeds that had grown through the concrete of a church parking lot. My church youth group had traveled a considerable distance to sing some songs and assist a small church as it struggled to care for its property and minister to a changing neighborhood. So I pulled weeds.

It was satisfying work, grabbing hold and removing the menacing plant from the ground. One of the trip sponsors looked at me and stated, "Jennifer, you'd make a good missionary's wife."

Missionary's wife? Did such a thing exist? Weren't women married to missionaries typically ALSO missionaries?

His well-meaning compliment stuck in my side like a thorn from one of the weeds I pulled. Though I had grown up in a Southern Baptist church and had a general understanding that women as Pastor were frowned upon, it was an issue that stayed hidden -- somewhere back in a broom closet in the "old part" of the building that winded like a maze on the second floor. This was the first time anyone had ever suggested that there was a career I couldn't have because of my gender.

That next year, I announced to my youth minister (they were "ministers," not "pastors" in my home church) that I intended to follow in his footsteps. "I think I'm called to youth ministry," I suggested. He smiled, "I think you will marry a pastor."

My parents had always told me I could be anything I wanted to be. Were they wrong?

On the mountain in Panama, my fellow students were divided. "I think women can be in church ministry roles, just not THE PASTOR," stated one. "What if that is God's call for her?" asked another. "Didn't Paul say that women shouldn't be leaders?" responded a third.

The conversation stayed at a discussion tone, but the answers to the question were deeply important for some: the one female pastoral studies major, for one. And while I was no longer focused on youth ministry, I still had that nagging question in my head.

As my understanding of Scripture expanded, I found that women leaders are sprinkled throughout the Bible. My question has faded, but as Pastor Nadia points out, many women (and men) are still being left to answer it. "There is something unusual about serving in a profession where there are entire institutions in America where women are not allowed to do my job," she wrote.

Isn't it about time we allowed our daughters and sons to focus on more important things -- like the stars?

Monday, March 2, 2009

A matter of great importance

I'm sure you will all agree that this is, by far, the most important blog I have written.

Tomorrow, U2's new album, "No Line on the Horizon" will be released worldwide!!

Let there be much rejoicing =0)