Friday, March 20, 2015

Faithful Practice is not perfect

Place - Western New York, in a small post-industrial city continuing to effort of reinventing itself. There are many small towns an cities like this along the northeast.

But this is my town.

My family and I have lived and worked in this community for over 20 years now. Personally, I've served in three different church denominations during that time here. I don't think it's even possible to count the number of people I've had the honor to get to know over that time, but as my children will tell you it's impossible for me to get groceries without seeing at least five people that I know.

But this is not really my story, this is God's story.

Over the last twenty years, there are two practices that I feel have been God's gift to me:
Creativity and relationships.

As suggested before, relationships happen when you are in one place long enough. However authentic relationships require compassion, listening, persistence and grace. For relationships to move beyond surface water cooler talk, there needs to be something/someone deeply running a current of care and love that remains unseen but is always felt. Martin Buber, a well-known philosopher said, “When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.” (Goodreads, Burber)

This is the feeling and space of knowing the other person as well as being known is what I refer to when I speak about building authentic relationships. This is a gift from God that is part of the story of this place I call home.

My second choice of gift from God for this place is creativity. As you can imagine, the theological shift of serving three different denominations over the last twenty years has been challenging. That is correct, but it is important to remember that while my position or perspective on God and the calling of where I serve may have shifted - God remains God. What is twenty years from God's perspective? A blink - a breath? 

Time is our reality. Days, week, month, years and down to the second - we are structured in time. But time is not what we really struggle with. Our real struggle is treating each day as a new beginning and seeing each moment for what is possible instead of as we always have seen it. 

Each day is new - if we are open and creative enough to see it.

Over the last two years these gifts of creativity and relationship have been at work in my own faith community. We are becoming intentional in trying to re-vision this familiar place into seeing it as it really is - new every morning. Our creativity has led us to paint community murals, re-open an old parsonage for coffee and conversation every Friday, and now are holding a once a month community open mic and food night. These efforts are small, but if I think back just one year none of these relational and creative gifts were a reality - yet.

This makes me ponder, if these are the changes we've seen in a few years of thinking and living from this relational and creative position... what is possible today, what is possible tomorrow?

We are thankful for these gifts from God and are excited to see what will be on our next horizon. We are a community of Lutheran Christians that lean into the grace and forgiveness of God so that we are freed to serve our neighbor. Our practice is relational and creative, but we are not perfect. 

But then again faithful practice is not perfect - it's practice.


(First Lutheran Church of Jamestown is located at 120 Chander Street, Jamestown NY. You can also visit our church outreach page here at First House - True Mission.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Letting the dough rise - re-Lent

Ash Wednesday is a holy day that brings reflection and contemplation to the center of life. Perhaps for me it's a day to reflect on spiritual matters that I am too busy to notice. Or maybe it is the meeting of slowing down and preparation with the Lenten season being married to the coldest and bleakest times of year in my region (WNY).

Either way I love this slow and sad day. It's a sadness that marks the shadows and valleys of life and instead of diminishing or avoiding them - embraces death wholly and if even so bold to mark its presence with a mark on our foreheads. Ash Wednesday and Lent is a time to be honest about our vulnerability and limits. This marking of who we actually are is important, and good, and sad - and probably why I love this melancholy day.

As Lent has begun for 2015 I think it will be a time of relenting for me. Relenting seeking something-anything more. Relenting from being better, seeking perfection and longing for someone to see something special in me. 

This Lent I pray for the grace to embrace my humanity - unique, growing, and lovely - but by no means perfect. I am human. From dust I came and to dust I shall return.

God help me to rest as this imperfect person. Help me to be like bread dough patiently waiting in a blue Pyrex bowl. Cozily on pause and covered by a muslin cloth. Relenting while rising -becoming something that can be kneaded by the hands of God to be someone - an imperfect and lovely someone - that can be a vessel for feeding others - in their own imperfect yet lovely state.

We are ashes, we are resting bread dough, we are imperfect - but perfectly loved by a God who really knows each lovely lump of clay.

Lent is a very good place to rest. 

Thank you God for Ash Wednesday and this time to relent from rushing to rest and eventually rise again.

Image found at:$(KGrHqZHJBIE9t!e7KVFBPibQ)Qwnw~~60_57.JPG

What is "third space"?

In the mix and business of life, it’s important to have a space to be yourself and simply be. If you think of this space in your own life, where would it be? While living out who we are at home and work are important and time-consuming parts of daily living, there is something to be said for spending time in a space called “Third Space”. In the book The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg spends a great deal of time explaining the differences between: first, second and third spaces.

“Oldenburg calls ones "first place" the home and those that one lives with. The "second place" is the workplace — where people may actually spend most of their time. Third places, then, are "anchors" of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction. (

Third space is not something new, but the definition of the places we spend our lives may be a new perspective to ponder. 

Oldenburg’s theory of third space is one that points to the importance of living in, cultivating and protecting third space as a means for community development as well as meeting societal needs for place. Some of the “third place” characteristics, according to Oldenburg are:

• Free or inexpensive
• Food and drink, while not essential, are important
• Highly accessible: proximate for many (walking distance)
• Involve regulars – those who habitually congregate there
• Welcoming and comfortable
• Both new friends and old should be found there. (

In considering Oldenburg’s theory and explanation of “third space”, it became apparent that for some “third space” could be a place where worship of God is part of its focus. Is the Church a “third space”?

If you were to ask what would make a church ideal, many of the above characteristics of “third space” seems to fit. However, I’d like to suggest that the place of the “third space” may be less important that the environment that is cultivated there. 

Churches that curate space for people to know others and be known and welcome others in with the understanding that going outside of comfortable space to extend an invitation are “third places”. Churches that provide a community and people to interact with and learn from as they worship God are probably more likely to succeed in being and becoming “third spaces” in people’s lives.

Acts 2 tells the account of how the Church became the church. There are dramatic events that lead to many people believing in Jesus Christ. But what follows the amazing and dramatic is the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the everyday lives of the people.

Life among the BelieversActs 2:43-47

43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds[j] to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home[k] and ate their food with glad and generous[l] hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

In our homes and work (places 1 and 2) we are called to share God’s story but in the “third places” we are called to share the gospel too. Day by day in the first, second and third places – God is with us. 

All the spaces we occupy and spend time in are important. Every arena of life is in need of good news. As Church, we have a special way of standing with people in all “places” of life as well as be curators of “third space” that lives out the saying…”All are welcome!"

Where do you experience third space and why is it important I your life?

Image of "Wild Goose Holy Spirit".                                                                       
 found here:

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Delight your heart...

In the fall of 2010 I was introduced to TED talks.  I watched an eighteen minute talk by researcher and storyteller - Brene’ Brown. ( If you haven't seen a TED talks they have become an international phenomenon,  where people from various and unlimited backgrounds share short talks that are: “Ideas worth sharing”. (For more information on TED talks – look online here:

Brene’ Brown captured my attention in her short talk when she talked about the difference between divided living in contrast with “whole-hearted” living. Through her extensive research, Brene’ discovered an essential ingredient to “whole-hearted” living – vulnerability.

She claims that vulnerability is an important key to living out lives in the place of wholeheartedness. The more I listened to her words, the louder my own heart pounded. The words I heard were making something deep inside me sit up and take notice. 

Once my perspective on vulnerability shifted, I began to see how vulnerability allows a person to be sincere and honest about whom they are as well as who they aren’t. Vulnerability, frees people from attempts to be perfect - because we aren’t no matter how hard we try. This freedom from perfection and living in vulnerability are necessary steps (according to Ms. Brown) to living a whole-hearted life.

The more I consider it, living a whole-hearted life looks like living in a way that a person gains greater understanding of who they are as well as what delights their heart in what they do every day.

Perhaps whole-hearted living could lead to experiencing greater joy, peace, and contentment? What do you think?

Psalm 37:4 is a scripture about “whole hearted” living. Sometimes its been read and understood to mean: …”Obey God and you will get what you want.”

But what it actually says is this… “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

A person that delights in the Lord is one that understands they are not perfect – but a forgiven child of God. A person that delights in the Lord, is someone freed to live life in a “whole-hearted” way – trusting God in good and bad times.

Living “whole-heartedly” and “delighting in the Lord” call us to new places and unfamiliar ways of being and living, but these are ways of living that are truly free. Living “whole-heartedly” might not be comfortable, but it’s a challenge that allows all of us to live  - all parts of life.

Years ago, I had no idea of how Ms. Brown’s first talk about “whole-hearted” living would stick with me. As I learn more how vulnerability helps make space for growth, development, experimenting and change - I'm also challenged to take uncomfortable AND more whole-hearted steps in life.

Do you think that daring to live a more vulnerable life sounds like an exciting and whole-hearted “idea” worth sharing? 

I do too. 

True Sisterhood will be reading and meeting to discuss the book “Daring Greatly” by Brene’ Brown starting Thursday February 5th. The group meets at First House at 116 Chandler Street from 6:30 to 8pm for a 6 week book study. Please contact Tara for more book or group information.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Mix tape for 2015

This article first appeared in First Lutheran Church's January 2015 newsletter, but I share it here because the message of what "track" we listen to and live by has legs here as well. Thank you for your grace on the context, and may this track be one that is life-giving to you in the days to come.

We are on the heels of the Christmas season and there has been some time to pause and reflect on the story of the Christ child and the message of love and forgiveness God brings to us through him. You have heard the story of the Nativity from the Sunday School youth of our church, heard beautiful music proclaiming the gospel from our choir led by Kimberly King, and perhaps have listened to the Jamestown High School A’ Capella Choir sing for the vespers service (the 90th year anniversary by the way.) There has been a great deal of proclamation as well a much to take in and listen to.
Personally, this last week of Advent has been a challenge for me as I’ve been without a voice due to a case of laryngitis. I’ve not been able to speak – so listening has had to be my focus.

But all this listening has helped me remember a tradition that young people used to participate in about 20-25 years ago. This tradition was called, “making a mix tape”. 

Friends and boyfriends/girlfriends would choose their favorite songs and records them in a selected order and give them as gifts. Sometimes the songs would be favorites that the friends shared, reminders of happy times, or proclamations to tell someone how you really feel. Making mix tapes (or Cds) was a way to send a message, claim the importance of a relationship and use music as the messenger. When it comes down to it mix tapes/cds whole purpose was to share love with another person.
You may have never made or received a mix tape/cd before, but at some point you have either given or received a message of love. While people are not perfect and our messages can get messed up at times, sending and receiving a message of love is an important part of being human. I’d go so far to say that it is an essential part of being human. Love messages are essential to people because a love message from God to us is in our ‘make-up’. God created people in love and we can’t get away from our need to see, hear and share God’s love with others – even when we don’t get it perfect.
Mix tape and cds aren’t perfect either. There are gaps in songs, there are squeaks and pops in the recording and sometimes you run out of room on the label to write all the song titles. No matter that mix tapes/cds are not perfect, they are still worth the effort because what they communicate: “You are loved.”

John 3:16-17 says 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
In Jesus Christ, God sent us a perfect “mix tape” to tell us that we are loved. This message is one that we never get tired of hearing or sharing, because it’s the one message we need to hear over everything else.
For this New Year, it might be fun to create a mix tape/cd to remind yourself and those you love how you feel about them. What songs would you choose? Who would you make a give a mix tape/cd too?
Mix tape messages are remind the hearer, you are loved!” This message – and God’s, is one we all need to set to “repeat” – to hear all year long.

Happy 2015!

Friday, November 07, 2014

14 Day of Courage - Day 1: Your Inspiration

Starting today begins a 14 day challenge to post images that inspire courage. For the next two weeks, I'll be posting one image a day to participate in this visual adventure in courage. If you would like to join in the challenge, just follow the guide for themes and add the hashtag #14DaysofCourage.

Have courage!

Day one image: Your Inspiration
Title: Emmanuel "God with us"

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Mr. Rogers and being thankful

One of my favorite TV shows as a child was Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. You may recall his catchy song, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood”, his cardigan sweaters, and his red toy trolley that traveled to the land of “make believe”. Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister who was unsatisfied with television programming for children and created the well-known TV program that has become an icon in children’s television history.

Years after watching the program, I read a memoir by Tim Madigan called, ‘I’m proud of you’. In this book, I learned how important compassion and thanksgiving inspired Fred Rogers not only to reach out to the children of world, but also to singular individuals. After an interview conducted by Tim, Fred befriended him and became an important friend and mentor throughout his life. What could have been a one time meeting turned into life-changing friendship. Fred Rogers seemed to have an amazing ability to connect with people – and stay connected in meaningful ways. 

Some might not first consider friendship, mentor-ship and making children’s television programs to be mission work. But I disagree. I think Mr. Rogers life – professionally and personally – reflected God’s love in everyday but life-changing ways. I for one am very thankful for Fred Rogers example as well as Mr. Madigan’s book expressing gratitude for one person’s caring actions.

Gratitude is a powerful tool in the battle with discouragement and disillusionment. Gratitude is a gift God gives to us and helps us to find the “beautiful day” in the midst of the challenges in our everyday life.

Psalm 28:7 reads, “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.” 

This Psalm helps to re frame where our strength comes from and reminds us that there is a song of thanksgiving that we are called to sing. Sometimes this song of thanks can help us to carry on in life, but other times it is a tune that projects out to those around us that are in great need of compassion – like Fred was for Tim.

Thanksgiving and compassion are more than a day or season to kick off the 2014 holiday season. Thanksgiving is what we carry in our hearts, put on like a cardigan sweaters and tie on our feel like comfortable walking shoes.

Thanksgiving is the foundation for starting to sing, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor…won’t you be mine, won’t you be mine, won’t you be – my neighbor.”

Sing your song of thanksgiving – make a new friend and let the love and friendship God has given be what motivates action of love, encouragement and thanksgiving throughout your neighborhood and mine. Happy thanksgiving, neighbor.