Month: January 2013


imageSometimes I can get crabby. My car breaks down, another snow storm comes, another child has to visit to Urgent Care, my insurance coverage might change, folks don’t like being Presbyterian anymore, etc, etc. It is all things that are out of my control that can drive me to a level of melancholy and angst.

My confession is that, while these things are all anxiety provoking and important they are also things that keep my eyes off Jesus. It’s like Jesus is preaching the Sermon on the Mount, and I’m missing his lecture, because I’m on the other side of the mountain, sending one more email, trying to figure out how to make everything better. How to be in control.

This was my devotional this morning and it jarred me back to what Jesus sees every day compared to what I see. I was humbly reminded to keep things in perspective. I can’t afford to miss his sermon today. I can’t afford to not sit at his feet and be a listener today. I can’t afford to not be reminded that I am accountable to him. There is too much at stake.

I don’t know about you, but I need to have the courage to see the world through the perspective of Jesus.

How Will We Respond?

Murphy Davis

More than 30,000 children are dying of hunger today–are we crying out for them? They are under attack–are we angry? Have we met them in our prayers? Have we offered food to anyone who is hungry today? Or did we put it off because we were scheduled to go to a spirituality conference? Or because we were in a meeting talking about Christian unity? … When our prayer and our action are both rooted in the compassionate heart of God and the grief of the earth and her children, then we are promised that we will bear the fruit of liberation, the flower of courage.
Source: Hospitality Sept. 2008

Dancing On The Gym Floor



Tonight I watched my beautiful daughter dance on the gym floor.
I watched a diminishing little girl and the shadows of a young woman.

Tears of love striped my face.

Tonight I watched beautiful children join hands and circle the gym floor.
With laughter and glee, defying the bitter January cold,

“you can’t keep us from fun!”

Tonight I watched beautiful families embrace.
Grandparents, siblings, babies, swinging, clapping

in the simple gaiety of life.

Tonight I watched the splendor of togetherness.
Joy created.

Time stood still.

Tonight I watched my beautiful daughter dance on the gym floor.



A Reason To Have Cupcakes


I think we have forgotten how to have fun. Or, the Fun Industry has made fun so elaborate that we have forgotten how simple fun is. Kids are great at simply, good fun. My girls play with duct tape more than their electronics and my son is a virtual engineer with a cardboard box.

But, we, in our communities really need to find an excuse to celebrate being together. We need to laugh, and play games, and eat sugar, and just sit still, for no reason then to say, “that was fun!”

It’s been said a hundred times how busy and over programmed we have become as a society. Our families, at least my family, is so programmed with tennis, swimming, dance, violin, piano, church, homework, that sometimes, I ask myself, “is this any fun?” What is fun is a rousing game of UNO and paint and play do all over the kitchen table, and hikes in the woods, with binoculars and a notepad, for finding fossils.

It’s not about what you do, it’s about doing it with someone. When we are together, engaging, sharing, laughing, that is what brings joy and enriches our lives.

Go have some fun today, and invite your congregation, family or neighbors to join you!

Who did you start out to be? And who are you becoming?


In honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

This is from my morning devotional Inward/Outward. I highly recommend subscribing to their devotionals.

Becoming Ourselves by Kayla McClurg

When I reflect on the life and witness of Martin Luther King, Jr., one thing that strikes me is obvious: he didn’t start out to be who he ended up being. He didn’t set out to be a visionary leader, intent on making an impact on the country and culture of his day. He allowed himself to be created. Slowly, layer by layer, choice by choice, he became himself. He didn’t choose “leader of a mass civil rights movement” from a list of vocational options. His identity emerged gradually from within as he yielded to the guidance of the community and listened and prayed and read and participated and took the risks of creativity that were uniquely his to take.

Underneath who we think we are, who people expect us to be, are as-yet-undiscovered aspects of our true identity–layers waiting to be uncovered. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the minister of a local church, husband and father, a dedicated preacher who devoted hours to preparing sermons that were theologically sound and probing. This was a good fit for him. He wasn’t searching for a new identity. But he found himself interested in the writings of Henry David Thoreau about civil disobedience and Gandhi’s thoughts about nonviolence. He became interested in some folks who were questioning the color barriers in their town and were beginning to devise ways to stand up to them. He didn’t have answers, only questions. He followed the questions, exploring the hints that came layer by layer, thus becoming more of himself.

Thus it was surprising, and yet not surprising at all, that within hours after a seamstress named Rosa Parks had “sat down for what she believed” he had been named spokesperson for a fledgling resistance movement. When he got home and told Coretta what had happened, he said he knew at a gut level that he was being asked inwardly to move beyond words and ideas and to put theory into practice. He said he knew he could no longer stand by and do nothing because to do so was to be a perpetrator of the evil he deplored.

Twenty minutes later the same young man who had a reputation for giving sermons only after hours of preparation was standing before a crowd of about 4,000 people speaking extemporaneously of the challenges and opportunities that lay before them. Part of what he said was this:

Sometimes a person gets tired…. We are here this evening to say to those who have mistreated us so long that we are tired–tired of being segregated and humiliated, tired of being kicked by the brutal feet of oppression…. We come here tonight to be saved from the patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice.

King knew he had a calling–to be a preacher and a father and a citizen. What he discovered little by little was that these dreams would be fulfilled far beyond his imagination. What about us? Are we still becoming ourselves? Are our deepest callings still unfolding, beyond our imagination? Or have we become too patient with being less than we really are?

Information on Martin Luther King is borrowed from the biography called King, a Biography by David Levering Lewis.

Source: Unknown

On Marriage


This is Just to Say
William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

This is my favorite poem on marriage.  I know. I’m a little strange.  But I love it,  because it speaks to the truth about marriage.  Every now and then, we go to the fridge looking forward to eating that one final piece of cake or piece of fruit and find  that what we had expected to be there, is no longer there. 

How we react to those disappointments and changes of plans throughout our marriage, from missing fruit, to a sudden illness, to any derailed expectation  impacts this sacred relationship.

 I love what Madeleine L’Engle says on the subject, from “The Irrational Season”

But ultimately there comes a moment when a decision must be made. Ultimately two people who love each other must ask themselves how much they hope for as their love grows and deepens, and how much risk they are willing to take. It is indeed a fearful gamble. Because it is the nature of love to create, a marriage itself is something which has to be created, so that, together we become a new creature.

To marry is the biggest risk in human relations that a person can take.If we commit ourselves to one person for life this is not, as many people think, a rejection of freedom; rather it demands the courage to move into all the risks of freedom, and the risk of love which is permanent; into that love which is not possession, but participation. It takes a lifetime to learn another person. When love is not possession, but participation, then it is part of that co-creation which is our human calling, and which implies such risk that it is often rejected.

This Sunday our lectionary is on The Wedding at Cana.  The  wedding business has nothing to do with the reality of marriage.  The celebration at the wedding at Cana is not about the celebration of the bride and groom. The celebration is that Jesus provides for them on their wedding day and will continue to provide for them throughout their marriage.  Marriage cannot be sustained on superficial substance, it can only be sustained on principles of grace, grace and grace.- That is the real miracle.

The real miracle is that when we go to the fridge and look forward to eating that delicious treat, and find that our spouse has enjoyed it instead, we take a breath, smile, tell them to go get us another one– and they do! 🙂

When You Pass Through The Waters


When I first meet people, they often ask me why I became a minister. They often ask if it is part of the family business or if my husband is a minister. “No” I say, “I come from a family of teachers,” and “my husband is a recovering Southern Baptist”
“How did you know you were called?” they ask.

“That’s a long story,” I reply. The short answer is “ by my baptism.” Our calling to follow God is not about a job or a career. It is not a word of mission, sending us into the future. Not at the outset. The word of baptism is first of all about the delight of God in this beloved, this chosen, this child called by name. Not a call to go do something, but a calling to be something. Our first calling, the baptismal call, is one that simply loves and names: You are my child. I delight in you. The words embrace us and promise to hold us. This is where it begins, and this is also, we dare claim, the last word, the one that holds our future.
This baptismal call will often become a call to action. It will mean mission and ministry and all kinds of tasks. Anointing is a sign of blessing, but it is also a commissioning. You are a child of God, now go act like it.

I was going to be many things before I was going to be a minister. – A dancer, actor, lawyer, therapist, news anchor, domestic violence advocate, peace corps volunteer, just to name a few. When I graduated from college I worked in the domestic violence prevention field for the Illinois Supreme Court. It was the time in my life when I was the most lost in my direction. I went on a quest to figure out what I was supposed to do with my life. I decided to interview every professional who had a job that I was remotely interested in. I visited lawyers, social workers, psycho therapists, YMCA directors and interviewed them asking what they liked and didn’t like about their jobs.

In the back of my head was this idea of being a youth pastor, but I scoffed at that. Every minister, except for my youth pastor had always been a silvered hair man who smelled like Listerine and wore cardigan sweaters. I could never be that. Finally, that annoying voice got the best of me and I went and interviewed about five pastors. What did the like about being a pastor? What was difficult? What schooling would I need to do? I finally relented, put my hands down and surrendered and told God if this is what God wanted I would go. I was reminded of my baptism you see. I was reminded that I belonged to God. I said, look God, I know I belong to you. I am yours. You have a hold on me, so I will stop fighting and go where you want me to go.” It was then that I heard a voice, that said, “you are going in the right direction, go in peace.” – The next day I called my home pastor, the Listerine smelling, kind man who I had listened to preach my entire life. I left a message, “by the way, just want you to know I think I am going to go to seminary and be a pastor.’ I did not expect to hear back from him. It had been about 10 years since I had been back at my home church and he was a busy pastor of a large congregation. The next day, there was a voice message from him. “Hi Shelly, this is Phil Queen, it is so good to hear your voice….I have been waiting to get this call from you for a long time.”

I don’t share this story with you to be self-promoting. It’s my story to share, and it’s the only one I have. I share it because you are no different. You too belong to God. You too have a purpose a mission, a calling. You too are charged with remembering that you belong to someone greater than yourself. The question is, can you put down your arms and follow? Let me tell you, that surrendering to that calling doesn’t happen once, it happens every day, sometimes every hour.
When we hold a new-born baby, so fresh from God, so full of blessing and promise, we recognize that they have their whole life ahead of them. We know that they will have bumps along the way. They will get their feelings hurt, have self-doubt, not get on the team, become an adolescent, be annoyed by their parents, change their major 8 times, struggle with relationships, and who knows what else.  In the 11 years that I have responded to this call of ministry I have been affirmed and I have been discouraged. I have felt God saying, “you are going in the right direction” over and over again.  I have also been told in so many words that I am really not very good at my vocation.  There is no doubt that I entered this vocation a broken person and that I have been reminded of my brokenness.   It hasn’t been a cake walk.  God never said it would be.  What did God say is
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.
When you pass through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.
When you walk through the fire, the flame shall not consume you.
I have called you by name, and you are mine.

To Lead Like Lincoln


How To Lead Like Lincoln

I don’t know about you, but I find leadership to be one of the most difficult skills to refine.  I think being good leader takes practice and study.  I admire good leaders. I admire people who can say what’s on their mind, without worrying about people’s feelings and yet are tactful in their approach.  I admire leaders who can be visionary and detailed at the same time.  I am always looking for models of leadership that can help me be better at working with people, holding them accountable and empowering them to achieve.  All the while maintaining a clear vision and direction of where we are going, and not wavering from the principles that guide us.

I read an article in INC 5000 by Matthew Swyers, the founder of trademark Company.  He wrote that there are four traits of  great leaders.   He  says they are Aspire, Plan, Inspire, and Execute.  He refers to the leadership of John F. Kennedy, Sam Budnyk, and Gene Kranz as possessing these skills. – Here is a link to the article.

C:\Documents and Settings\Shelly\My Documents\4 Traits of Great Leaders  Inc_ 5000.mht

His article got me thinking about one leader I admire most. – The Great Illinoisan, Abraham Lincoln.

With 12 Academy Award nominations, including Best Movie of the Year, the movie Lincoln has inspired many to express admiration for a great leader in history. Ironically, his leadership was not so appreciated in his day. The movie got me thinking, “what does Lincoln teach us about leadership?” 

Here are some thoughts on the qualities we need to possess if we want Lead Like Lincoln:

First, Lead with a Tenacious Sense of Purpose.


As the war drags on and appears to be coming to an end, Lincoln knows that he needs to broaden  the effect of  the Emancipation Proclamation by passing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.  He hears voices from both side of the aisle urging him to reconsider.  People are beyond tired. The war has taken an immeasurable toll and there is an aching desire for peace. No doubt Lincoln shared that desire.  The movie show his inner turmoil as he struggles with wanting the war to end, but also wanting to do what he know is right in seeing the passing of the 13th Amendment come to fruition.

Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.~A. Lincoln

Second, Have Penetrating Insight.


Lincoln saw everything.  He saw suffering. He saw evil. He saw love. He saw hope. Daniel Day-Lewis portrays Lincoln as an observer of the world. He goes to the battlefields and the hospitals. He thinks before he speaks, and then thinks again. 

He seemed to have an understanding that his life with its beginning and end was just a shimmering  moment in the history of the world.

In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years. ~ A. Lincoln

Third, Show Great Wisdom About Human Nature


In this scene, Lincoln is talking  to the Secretary of State, William Seward and a Congressman, convincing him to support the 13th Amendment. Lincoln was not a pastor, he was a politician.  He understood how people tick and he used that knowledge to his advantage.  He understood that people have insecurities, needs, anxieties and hopes. 

As Lincoln worked to accomplish the passing of the 13th Amendment, he went directly to the members of Congress and met them on their own turf. He went to their homes. He sat in their parlors and helped them with their horses.  He was not too aloof or distant or unwilling to meet people in their lives as they were living them.

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. ~A. Lincoln

Fourth Exhibit An Eloquent Style of Expression.


My favorite book about Lincoln is Lincoln’s Greatest Speech, by Ronald C. White. This short book walks through Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.  Oh, to use the English language the way Lincoln did!  To be able to form words and ideas with thoughtful reverence. To speak to people with the belief that they were intelligent enough to think abstract thoughts. To convey ideas with passion.  As a lover of language, this is what I love most about Lincoln.

With Malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds. ~A. Lincoln

Fifth, Maintain a Good Sense of Humor


For all of the sadness and loss Lincoln experienced in his lifetime, he maintained a quick wit and gift for story telling. Maybe it was his defense mechanism for all the sorrow that surrounded him. Regardless, when people were anxious, Lincoln could defuse a room of angst with a quick story and break the tension with laughter. 


How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg. ~A. Lincoln


So there it is:

Lead with Purpose,

Be Insightful,

Understand Human Nature,

Speak with Eloquence and

Maintain a Sense of Humor.


And then at the of the day, if we want to lead like Lincoln, it would behoove us to remember that it is:

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.

~ A. Lincoln



image“A friend is more than a therapist or confessor, even though a friend can sometimes heal us and offer us God’s forgiveness. A friend is that other person with whom we can share our solitude, our silence, and our prayer. A friend is that other person with whom we can look at a tree and say, “Isn’t that beautiful,” or sit on the beach and silently watch the sun disappear under the horizon. With a friend we don’t have to say or do something special. With a friend we can be still and know that God is there with both of us.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen

I have been thinking a lot about friendship lately. As I think on my friends, those from the past and those in the present, I well up with gratitude for the gift and privilege of walking the journey with them. I grieve that for some the journey has ended and we have parted ways. And while our lives have taken different roads, I still love them. I am awestruck by those friends that I have walked beside for decades. Our friendship is as familiar and comforting as a warm house on a bitter day. I fill up with emotions as I think about my sisters, who know me better and love me still.

A friend of mine said the other day, “sometimes I think I love and give more than my friends are able to receive, and that’s o.k.” Indeed it is.

Nobody says it better than James Taylor…..

Painting Spiritual Leadership


The Alban Institute’s latest “Congregations” has an article entitled “Leaders are Lovers,”  by Herbert Anderson.  It’s an article I wish I had written.  Anderson talks about the importance of bonds and boundaries in ministry. He says, “pastoral bonds are as important as pastoral boundaries because connected leaders are differentiated leaders.”

He asks the question, “what kind of leadership will foster hospitality inclusive enough to penetrate the walls of separation among people and between generations erected out of fear?” Yes! This is the question. We want stability, tradition and nostalgia, and we also want to grow, be hospitable and open to change, and some how these two desires seem to be contrasting rather than supportive of one another.   How do we establish boundaries of ideals and principles and at the same time create bonds of diversity and inclusiveness?

Anderson talks about how pastors have long been trained to have strong boundaries and to strive be self differentiated. The challenge is, how do we maintain appropriate boundaries and  at the same time stay connected?  He quotes the expert, in my opinions,  on self differentiation Rabbi Friedman, reminding us that as leaders we have to see where we are in the system instead of seeing where everyone else is and then responding to the system. I think this is so difficult. When we hear that people are unhappy, or annoyed or don’t like this or that, it is tempting to go with wind to try be all to all.  I have a friend who calls this “chameleon ministry.” We change our theology, our polity, and our personality to fit the needs and desires of our congregations. We do this because we are pleasers. We want to make “everyone happy,” and we want to be liked. This is what means to NOT be self differentiated.

Pastoral leadership comes not from being a chameleon or a perpetual pleaser, it comes from knowing who you are and who you are not. It comes from the ability to listen and trust. Anderson quotes a pastor named Doug Purnell, who described his vision of ministry this way:

“I offer no big plans. I can only offer to live honestly,openly and deeply as your spiritual leader. I will love the people given to my care. I will provide the best worship I am capable of. I will listen to the people of the congregation and community. My understanding of ministry is lie standing in front of a canvas with a brush in hand but no preconceived plan. If I listen deeply to the paint, occasionally, just occasionally a miracle happens and something very new and unexpected emerges.”

I love that. I think the best we can do is simply our best on any given day. We love. We listen. We pray. We think. We are open to the spirit and we laugh at our humanity.

At our church, we are in the middle of officer training, staff retreats and elder and deacon retreats right now. We have quickly turned the page from Advent and Christmas to budgets and programming. It’s so easy to get caught up in the details of the church. Who is going to do sound, usher, greet, sing, play, plan, teach, prepare, cook, clean, pray, visit, shovel, call, write, count, organize, lead, serve, speak, etc. These questions are vital to “getting the job done.” But they are not the questions that really matter. And while all of this is a tremendous amount of work, it is not truly the hard work.

A parishioner recently wrote me and said, “people care less about being appreciated and more about being connected.”   (This was humbling to me, as I work so hard at telling people I appreciate them.- Here I go again, being a chameleon) .

The heart of the matter is connectivity and  relationships, that is centered on trust and care. That is why we go to the canvas.

Next Saturday we have our officer retreats. My hope as spiritual leader is come with a clean palate and listen, listen, listen and ask that we all paint together the vision of who we are called to be.

Here is a blessing I picked up at a conference this summer:

A Blessing for Our Work Together, by John O’Donahue, “For One Who Holds Power,” in To Bless the Space Between Us

May the gift of leadership awaken you as vocation,
Keep you mindful of the providence that calls you to serve.

As high as the mountains the eagle spreads its wings,
May your perspective be larger than the view from the foothills.

When the way is flat and all at times of gray endurance,
May your imagination continue to evoke horizons.

When thirst burns in times of drought,
May you be blessed to find the wells.

May you have the wisdom to read time clearly
And known when the seed of change will flourish.

In your heart may there be a sanctuary
For the stillness where clarity is born.

May your work be infused with passion and creativity
And have the wisdom to balance compassion and challenge.

May your soul find the graciousness
To rise above the fester of small mediocrities.
May your power never become a shell
Wherein your heart would silently atrophy,
May you welcome your vulnerability
As the ground where your healing and truth join.
may integrity of soul be your first ideal,
The source that will guide and bless your work.

Please Read, “Leaders are Lovers: Fostering Bonds and Honoring Boundaries,” by Herbert Anderson. Found in Congregations: Issue 4, 2012