Hockeypuck Rattlesnake Monkey Monkey Underpants

I have so much writing to do.
I am past deadline on two projects. Plus all the normal worship bulletin, sermon, newsletter, bible study stuff. But every time I sit down to type, I get about 4 sentences in and hate myself and every word ever created. That story is boring and that joke isn’t the right kind of funny. And forget about trying to be smart or useful or on point or even making complete sentences. BLERG. I loathe all the word things fumbling around in my brain. Monkey. Monkey. Underpants.

So friends, how to do get over your no-good ick gross pathetic writing days? No, I mean, really….


The day I bought that car.

I remember the embarrassment. Sitting in that glass room. The man in the khakis walking by, pacing by, every 2 minutes. Sitting there on the phone. Making call after call from his desk. He just walked by again. I remember the embarrassment. Having just quit my job and begging lender after lender to help me finance a $5000 car with nothing down. And having lender after lender turn me down because I was a broke grad student who had just quit her job. I remember the embarrassment sitting in that car salesman’s office. With my mother. Knowing I HAD to get that car. Because how do you raise a kid by yourself in suburban New Jersey without a car? Oh my God, I am going to raise a kid in New Jersey. I remember the embarrassment when they looked at the forms. When I didn’t have the right answers for a woman my age. I didn’t have very responsible answers, that’s for sure. I remember him asking me more questions. He really needed this sale. And he had to know what a hopeless embarrassing case I was. He had to wish I’d spare us all the embarrassment and claim to have left the oven on or say I needed to think about it some more or anything. Just leave. I remember my mother saying nothing. She was embarrassed for me. I remember her looking down at her hands in her lap as he spoke to me. I remember the embarrassment when I felt the tears welling up, knowing what the next answer and the next answer and the next answer would be. It wasn’t enough. But I remember, more than the embarrassment, I remember the fear. Of how I was going to do this. How I would bring home this child. To New Jersey. The busses didn’t even run on weekends. Also, where would she sleep and eat and go to school and make friends and would we really get housing and maybe I should consider dropping out of school like everyone says because single parents are supposed to work so they can pay for clothes and books and shoes and the doctor and dentist and oh my snakes, I’m the one who is going to have to take her to the dentist and I hate the dentist and I’m going to have to pay for the dentist and we HAVE TO HAVE A DAMN CAR TO GET TO THE DENTIST!!!!

That day in the used car dealership off Route 1 was one of so many days that year I was certain I’d die of embarrassment, fear and outright failure. Much of that summer when I first became a parent has been lost to the fog of my stress-memories. But I remember that day, desperately trying to buy a car, clear as ever. I remember feeling like it was the one key ingredient. If I could just pull that together the rest of it would line up or work out or at least wouldn’t seem so impossible. I mean, I’d be able to drive the kid to the dentist. Good parents do that. I could do that. I could…

And after a couple of hard hours burying my pride in a flurry of begging and promising and no shortage of sad-sad, single parent sob-story telling, I did manage to secure the financing and drove that beautiful, busted-up little Chevy with the weird brakes home. Home to the temporary place while I waited and fought and argued for housing. Which worked out. I stayed in school. I took out loans. I called people for help. Bit by bit and day by day we figured it out. It was really hard. It’s still really hard. All the time. I still find myself embarrassed and scared sometimes. Okay, maybe more than sometimes. But today, sitting in my office, where I work because I didn’t drop out, but I stuck with it and found a way to graduate and get a job and kept food on the table and the kid’s teeth relatively well cared for, today I sat in that office and made my final payment on that rusty, lovely 2006 Chevy.

And looking at my account online today, seeing it zero out, I wished I could drive back to New Jersey, to that dealership off Route 1, to that little glass office, and slam that last payment (in cash, all $1s for dramatic effect, preferably) on the khaki pants-guy’s desk, in front of my mom, with a smile on my face and say, “That’s my car, now.”

Because I did it. I did it. I bought that car. I made things work. I survived my own embarrassment, doubt and fear. And sure, there are still many other challenges and worries and struggles ahead and now and all around, but I bought that car. I did it. It is done and I did it and it is mine. And for today, for just a moment right now,  that feels damn good.

Holy Tuesday

I didn’t sleep last night. My mind wouldn’t rest. My worries wouldn’t lay down. My wonderings wouldn’t grow weary.

Sleepily, I went to be with a dear friend in the hospital this morning, as she waited through her husband’s surgery. As I walked in, police were walking a man out in shackles and chains. Real ones. The sound of it shook me.

I made it through the series of desks, hallways and elevators to the waiting room, only to be greeted by images of violence and death in Belgium on the tv screen.
There will be NO rushing to Easter this week. 
We will walk through every bit of the reality of our world this week. Every ugly moment of it. That seems certain.
Help us, O Lord, to not be afraid to look at this life we are living. To look at the systems we’ve created. To look into the belly of evil, death and hate. The evil, death and hate that only your love can conquer. And help us to cling to you while we walk and while we wait.

When God’s People Cry Out, We Will Respond With Love
A version of this sermon manuscript was preached by Rev. Erin Counihan on Sunday 8/9/15 at Oak Hill Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, MO.

SECOND READING 2 SAMUEL 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

“Almost from the start, Absalom had a number of strikes against him. For one thing, he was much too handsome for his own good, and his special pride was such a magnificent head of hair that once a year when he had it trimmed, the trimmings alone tipped the scales at three and a half pounds. For another thing, his father, King David, was always either spoiling him rotten or reading him the riot act. This did not promote stability of character. He murdered his lecherous brother Amnon for fooling around with their sister, Tamar, and when the old war-horse Joab wouldn’t help him patch things up with David afterward, he set fire to his hay field. All Israel found this kind of derring-do irresistible, of course, and when he eventually led a revolt against his father, a lot of them joined up.

On the eve of the crucial battle, David was a wreck. If he was afraid he might lose his throne, he was even more afraid he might lose Absalom. The boy was the thorn in his flesh, but he was also the apple of his eye, and before the fighting started, he told the chiefs of staff till they were sick of hearing it that, if Absalom fell into their clutches, they must promise to go easy on him for his father’s sake. Remembering what had happened to his hay field, old Joab kept his fingers crossed, and when he found Absalom caught in the branches of an oak tree by his beautiful hair, he ran him through without blinking an eye. When they broke the news to David, it broke his heart, just as simple as that, and he cried out in words that have echoed down the centuries ever since. “O my son Absalom, my son, my son,” he said. “Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son” (2 Samuel 18:33).

He meant it, of course. If he could have done the boy’s dying for him, he would have done it. If he could have paid the price for the boy’s betrayal of him, he would have paid it. If he could have given his own life to make the boy alive again, he would have given it. But even a king can’t do things like that. As later history was to prove, it takes the King himself.”[1]


These words from writer and theologian Frederick Buechner paint the portrait our lectionary text only outlines today. Buechner fills in the missing parts of the story, but I think he also shades in the pain, the loss and the weeping of a grieving father.

This week, another grieving father painted a similar portrait of sadness, of crying out, when he spoke with CNN’s Moni Basu as the anniversary of his son’s death approached. With all of the political conversation, the differing viewpoints, the protests and marches, the vandalism, the organizing and the tweeting; with all of the controversy and turmoil in our city over the past year, the one thing that can and does get lost in the conversation is a family’s grief.  Basu explains…

He had stood waiting, numb, about half a mile from here on Canfield Drive, with his wife of three weeks, Calvina. He rushed there after the police called him and his son’s mother, Lesley McSpadden. They all stood before a body covered by a sheet, surrounded by police cars, flashing lights, yellow crime scene tape and a crowd that grew larger by the minute.

He was there for four hours and 32 minutes before the sheet was lifted and he saw his son, and what he did not want to believe was confirmed. His 18-year-old boy, named after him, had been shot dead by Darren Wilson, a white police officer in Ferguson.

One year later, Brown utters the same words he uttered then: “I should have been there to protect him.”

From the afternoon of August 9 to the funeral of “Mike Mike” 16 days later, Brown felt as though he were in a trance. On the funeral program, he wrote:

“I think of you day and night and just wish I was there to save you from harm. I always told you I would never let anything happen to you. And that’s why it hurts sooooo much. I will never let you die in my heart.”[2]


I stood in that same spot this morning, just as the sun was rising, on that street in Ferguson, in a circle, holding hands with more than 100 clergy, to acknowledge those tears of a grieving father. To witness to that pain and emptiness. To remember that this isn’t just about statistics and hashtags, this is about a father’s lost son. A mother’s lost daughter. A sister, a brother, a niece, a nephew, a friend. And each day there is another new name to mourn. 705 names added just this year.[3] And every time a new name is added to the list, each time a new hashtag is trending, another parent is crying out: O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! O my son Mike Mike, O my daughter Renisha, O my son Tamir, O my son Walter, O my daughter Tanesha, my child, my child!

This morning, in that circle of faith, as we wept for and with the parents of lost children, as we prayed for God to protect all our children, one mother in the circle lamented that she could do nothing to take away that grief, to stop the tears of grieving parents, to but that she could work and pray that God might make something holy come from those tears.

Because that’s what we do, that’s all we can do when people are grieving, when our neighbors are weeping. We show up with love. God’s people show up with love. Usually with love and casseroles, but always with love. As imitators of God, as beloved children, living in love, as Christ loved us, God’s people show up at the worst of times, still, to witness to God’s love.

So, yes, sometimes we show up with God’s love in the form of a frozen meal and a tray of cookies, and but also, at other times we show up with God’s love in our voices proclaiming, “That’s enough violence! Not one more!” Sometimes we show up with God’s love as flowers and condolence cards, and other times it’s with letters drafted to our elected officials saying, “We need better schools, more jobs, programs to keep kids off the streets and out of prisons and in school, we need opportunities for all!” Sometimes we show up with God’s love in the form of an embrace and a prayer, and other times it’s holding hands, marching down the street, promising not to forget, to keep asking the hard questions, and demand answers and changes.

God calls us to show up with love.

O Church-   fathers, mothers, siblings, grandparents, family and friends are weeping. Right now. More and more of them every day.

How might we show up with love? How will we witness to God’s love?


Canfield Drive. 7am. 8/9/15.

Canfield Drive. 7am. 8/9/15.

[1] “Absalom” by Frederick Buechner as posted to and accessed on 8/8/2015.

[2] Interview from “Michael Brown’s Father: ‘I think of him every single day’” as posted at and accessed on 8/8/2015.

[3] As documented by on 8/9/2015.

That Beast Racism, er, I mean Goliath

Are We Ready to Slay the Monster, the Beast, The Giant: Goliath/Racism?
A version of this sermon manuscript was preached by the Rev. Erin Counihan at Oak Hill Presbyterian Church on Sunday, June 21, 2015.
Text: 1 Samuel 17: 1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49image
This Wednesday, we sat in that room.
Right over there. On the other side of the wall. Sitting, in a circle. Was it nine of us? Or eight? I can’t quite remember.

But there we were. On Wednesday.

And I like to think, because I’ve come to know the people who gather in that room each Wednesday, that had a stranger come in, through our unlocked door and joined our Wednesday bible study, that stranger, too, would have been welcomed.
Someone would have motioned to an open seat. Someone else would have slid their book over to share the lesson. Someone else might have gotten up to offer the newcomer a bible, so that when we went around the circle reading the passage, our new guest would have had the opportunity to read in turn. We would have invited them to share- their opinions, questions, ideas, doubts, and prayer requests. Then we would have bowed our heads and closed our eyes and prayed to God with our new friend.

As the news of the terrible tragedy, the act of terror, the violent hate crime flooded our worlds Wednesday night, I couldn’t get that scene out of my mind. Hadn’t I just sat in such a room, with such faithful people, that very day? I fell apart weeping over the idea.

Because, at first, when I first heard the news, that there had been a shooting in a church at a prayer meeting, that was as far as I got. And in my disbelief, I dig deeper. I searched for more information, for details. How could this be? What kind of monster could do such a thing. And then when I read the rest of the story- that the shooting was at an AME Church, at THE AME Church, at Mother Emanuel, in the deep south, a church and denomination created because the white church wouldn’t let them in. A church that had been burned to the ground out of hate. That the victims were all African-American, and the shooter was white. My heart shattered into a million pieces. Because now I could imagine what kind of monster had done such a thing. Because I knew that monster. I knew that monster’s name- Racism.

That monster has been destroying lives, churches, communities, and unity in our nation for centuries. That monster we here in St. Louis know well. We know it well in the stories of our schooling, in the stories of the changes in this neighborhood, and especially over the past 10 months we know it well in conversations about policing and the deaths of Michael Brown, Kajieme Powell, Vonderitt Meyers, and Ledarius Williams.

Here in our congregation, we have been attempting to talk about that monster. We’ve held sacred conversations, attended marches and learning events, we’ve offered so many prayers. We’ve been learning new terms, reading new scholars, and hearing new stories. We’ve been listening to new voices. And it hasn’t been easy or comfortable. There are days when even I, the one who talks about this all the time, have thought, man, we’ve got to talk about something else. It’s getting pretty awkward. This is exhausting. We need a break.

But then I read the news, or talk to a friend, or watch how people watch my own kid when we walk into a store and I am reminded that my black and brown sisters and brothers don’t have that luxury of taking a break from the conversation, of hiding from the monster, not even for a break, not ever for a day. So as long as our black and brown brothers and sisters are dying at the hands of the monster of racism, the beast of injustice, and the devil that is gun violence, in our streets, in their own homes, and in God’s home- I have no business being comfortable. The least I can do is talk about it. Pray about it. Learn about it. Listen to their voices, their experiences, and their cries. And hear God’s call to be humbled, to repent, and to work for justice.

Because that monster of racism, I believe is our Goliath. It is this big, bad thing, supported by an army of hate, wearing the armor of indifference, imposing its way on our systems, laws, communities, schools and society. And I believe today, with our broken hearts, we are presented with a choice. We can be the Israelite army, the chosen people of God, armed with the tools of righteousness and love, but stunned, and scared, frozen in awkward fear, refusing to take action. Or we can be David.

David. Who in this moment, is not the great warrior king, but is just young shepherd. No one thinks he’s anything special. But he is called by God. Experienced in the love of God. Confident in the hope of God. Rejecting any armor but that of the Word of our Lord.

We can be David, and show up, stare the monster Goliath of Racism in the face, take every bit of trash talk, of garbage hyperbole, it can spew at us, and boldly say, out loud, “I come to you in the name of the Lord God, whom you have defied.”

We can be David.
What might happen? If our God, the God who uses all kinds of broken, unexpected people, used us?
Our God, the God who called a really old couple to birth a chosen tribe.
Our God, the God who called a stutterer to speak the law to the people.
Our God, the God who called children to be prophets.
Our God, the God who called an unwed teenage girl to give birth to the divine being.
Our God, the God who called an oppressor, a persecutor, to preach and grow the church.
Our God, the God who called a boy shepherd to take on the biggest beast of his time.

What if that God is calling to us now? Can you imagine? For a moment, if we didn’t care how big the monster, beast Goliath of Racism was, if we didn’t worry about how wide and deep and far its arms reach, but if we could be like David, look it in the eye and call it out. Saying THAT IS NOT THE WAY OF GOD!

What if we channeled David every time we hear a just slightly offensive joke?
What if we channeled David every time we noticed discrimination, inequality and underrepresentation in our workplaces, in our schools, on panels and governing boards?
What if we channeled David every time we cringed at a friend’s social media post?

What if we channeled David every time we caught ourselves exercising our own privilege?

We can channel David. We can be David. We can do something. We must do something. Something. Because, we don’t have to be armed with the right words. We have God’s true word.
We can be like David, are little things, called by God into service. To slay the beast. Not with big maneuvers, impressive moves or fancy tools, but with our faith in God and God’s message of love.

Goliath is out there. And in here [points to sanctuary]. And in here [points to my own heart].

Are we ready to be called to service like young David, infused with our faith in the Lord? Or will we sit by silently and watch the beast attack, stuck in our fear?[i]

I will close today with the reading of our Gospel from the book of Mark. Hear now the word of our Lord:

35On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?[ii]

[i] This sermon references the theological ponderings of Rev. Tawnya Denise Anderson as shared with the RevGalBlogPals. I am thankful for her scholarship and vision and especially for her challenge to us preachers! 

[ii] Mark 4:35-40 NRSV

Liturgy Resources for Sunday 6/21/15

As we approach this Sunday with the massacre at Emanuel AME in Charleston heavy on our hearts and burning passion on our lips, many clergy are sharing their prayers, liturgies, hymns and confessions. Here are some I have written or prepared to use in worship at Oak Hill Presbyterian Church in St. Louis. You are welcome to use or tweak any of these if you need something for your worship or private prayers. May we who lead people in worship of God be bold tomorrow in proclaiming God’s call to seek justice and to love our neighbors. May God have mercy on us all. May God replace our hate, rejection, and silence, with God’s justice, love and joy.

CALL TO WORSHIP (Psalm 9:9-20)

Voice 1 The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed,

a stronghold in times of trouble.

ALL And those who know your name put their trust in you,

          for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.

Voice 2 Sing praises to the LORD, who dwells in Zion.

Declare his deeds among the peoples.

For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;

he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.

Voice 3 Be gracious to me, O LORD.

See what I suffer from those who hate me;

you are the one who lifts me up from the gates of death,

so that I may recount all your praises,

and, in the gates of daughter Zion,

rejoice in your deliverance.

ALL The nations have sunk in the pit that they made;

          in the net that they hid has their own foot been caught.

The LORD has made himself known, he has executed judgment;

          the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands.          

Voice 2 The wicked shall depart to Sheol,

all the nations that forget God.

Voice 3 For the needy shall not always be forgotten,

nor the hope of the poor perish forever.

Voice 1 Rise up, O LORD! Do not let mortals prevail;

let the nations be judged before you.

Put them in fear, O LORD;

let the nations know that they are only human.

O God, we are only human. We are so very human. Which is why we turn to you and your perfect love, your abundant grace, and your eternal peace. This morning, Lord, help us to greet one another, not with our human hands, but with your holy peace.

May the peace of the Lord be with you. (And also with you.) Please share a sign of God’s peace with one another.

HYMN #314 Longing for Light, We Wait in Darkness

Call to Confession: When the blood of our brothers and sisters is spilled in your house, O Lord, we have much to grieve, and to confess. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Prayer of Confession: (Unison) Good and loving God, we come to you in pain.  We weep for the nine lives lost in your sanctuary this week.  We weep for the hurts of our community, nation and world.  But we are fools if we weep without admitting our role in hurting your people.  We confess now that we have failed you.  We close our eyes to the pain of others.  We support and maintain systems that abuse your creation and your beloved children.  We refuse to acknowledge our privilege.  We shy away from awkward conversations.  We stand silent in the name of peace and unity, when we should be calling out in the name of your justice and radical love.  O Lord, have mercy on us, your humble servants. Forgive us.  Renew us.  And teach us to boldly proclaim your message of love for all, in our thoughts, words, and deeds.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.


Affirmation of Faith: From the Confession of Belhar:

We believe in the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who gathers, protects and cares for the church through Word and Spirit. This, God has done since the beginning of the world and will do to the end. We believe that God has entrusted the church with the message of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ; that the church is called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, that the church is called blessed because it is a peacemaker, that the church is witness both by word and by deed to the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells. We believe that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

To the one and only God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be the honor and the glory for ever and ever.

And here is the link to a prayer I wrote on Thursday for the RevGals website: 

The book is here!

imageI’m supposed to be writing my sermon.

For tomorrow.

For preaching tomorrow.

I’m supposed to be writing a sermon for preaching tomorrow in front of smart, faithful people who trust and respect me enough to pay me to stand up in front of them on a regular basis and talk about the stuff I see in the bible.

And it’s late.

Oh, I am SO supposed to be writing my sermon.

But the book came today.

The book came today with my little story in it and my name in it and some words I wrote months and months ago printed in it, that I can touch and hold and sniff and show to my loves-to-write kid. The kid who dreams of one day holding a book of her own with her name in it.

The book came today.

The book with stories about and by my sisters, my peers, my mentors, my friends, my heroes. The book of their moments, which are also totally my moments.

So I’m laying in bed, under a mountain of bible commentaries and sermon aides, not writing my sermon, but reading the book. Reading The Book.

Laughing. Cringing. Sobbing.

I’m 36 pages in, and somehow it is both too much and not nearly enough. These women. These brilliant, bold, faithful, hilarious women. I’ve followed, lurked, stalked, and visited on some of them for years, through the adventures of the RevGalBlogPals. Others I’m just discovering right now. But this book. Something about holding their lives, their moments, their callings, their words, in my hands.

I can’t put them down.

But I have a sermon to write. And they’re not going anywhere.

This book. Oh, this book.

There’s a Woman in the Pulpit is a collection of stories and experiences shared by more than 50 clergywomen representing 14 denominations. We met and connected online, by doing just that- sharing our stories. What was once a blog ring is now a thriving site where clergywomen and clergywomen supporters gather to share stories, advice, prayer requests, best practices, theological reflections, practical resources, and ministry ideas. This book is now available for purchase through Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. 

I really could NOT make this stuff up…

For you, friends, a story….
There once was a new pastor, who survived her first Holy Week. It had been a lovely week, but a busy one with many long days and nights and not much sleep, and so, so, so many worship bulletins prep’ed. Alas, on Tuesday after Holy Week, she could not bring herself to do ONE MORE bulletin. So she put it off. And off. And off. The church secretary didn’t mind because, she too was totally unwilling to deal with ANOTHER church bulletin. So, on Thursday and Friday they threw something together and claimed to have proof read it, and printed and folded and sorted and printed the bulletins.
Skip forward to Sunday, during worship, where all is going well and there are even a few visitors, and new pastor lady is trying to impress them and so she gears up to dramatically read the day’s text and she starts reading from the bulletin insert, because obviously she forgot to print out the BIG copy she usually uses. She starts: “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene …” WHAT THE CRAP!? (she thinks to herself and somehow manages not to scream out loud) What she actually says, into the mic, is “well that’s not right. It’s supposed to be evening now.” She shuffles through her bulletin looking for a different insert. Then, hoping against hope, wishing it to be only her mistake, she cautiously asks, “Is that what your copy says?”
“Yes.” They ALL reply.
All the bulletins were printed with the wrong text.

Slightly panicking, but channeling the most experienced, calm, cool collected pastors she’s ever known, well, (at least telling herself that) Newbie Pastor now starts looking for a freaking bible. In the sanctuary. AND CAN’T FIND ONE. She runs down to the pews, and starts digging through the racks. ALL HYMNALS. Where are the bibles?? Not in the pews. THERE ARE NO BIBLES IN THE PEWS. And for some reason, she doesn’t think to use the huge old church bible on the communion table RIGHT NEXT TO HER, or the OTHER HUGE ONE on the lectern just to the side of the communion table. They both have today’s reading in them. Right there. IN the sanctuary. Nooooo, instead she says to the faithful gathered, “I got it. Be right back.” And she runs out of the sanctuary to the adjacent bible study room where she knows there is a stack of normal sized, tiny-font NRSV bibles. She comes bounding back in, passing behind the lectern, and into that mic says, “Come on, Donna [the thus yet not passed out, but patient and flexible, oh-so friendly liturgist], you let me down! You were supposed to do a little liturgical dance to distract them while I got this….”

(Nervous laughter)
Newbie Pastor sprints back to her pulpit, slightly out of breath, majorly purple-faced, and reads the day’s lesson.
Then picks up her sermon manuscript and makes a big, stinkin’ deal of flipping through it, and says, “just checking to make sure this isn’t last week’s, too.”

Welcome to the sit-com that it my life in ministry! 

Pastor’s First Easter

It was one of those moments where you know that it is special and holy and precious and rare, and it is changing you, and that you will cling to it, remember it, relish in it for years to come, and you know that now even as it is happening.

Yeah, it was one of those moments.

My first Easter as a pastor.

Earlier in the week, I’d thought, this isn’t so bad. Why do all the pastors I know stress so hard about Easter? Why do they worry and overwhelm themselves? This isn’t so bad. Fast forward to 5 thirteen hour work days later, two of which were spent in the office WITHOUT WORKING INTERNET ACCESS. After a lot of worships in a lot of different places, after folding bulletins at 9:30pm. After a slight personal meltdown over being a bit homesick. After the Easter Egg Hunt in the park, the protest march up the street, and after the OH MY MARY I ALMOST FORGOT EASTER VIGIL. After all of that, it was 11pm Holy Saturdaynight and I was laid flat on my broken couch watching HGTV on my DVR eating chips and chocolate with not even a hint of a sermon and 6 hours until I needed to be at church to start the Easter action. After a bit of a sermon that I wasn’t too proud of came to the keyboard. After two and a half hours sleep.

I sat in the sanctuary alone at 5am Easter morning. I read the days text’s over and over again. I listened to the soft, sad Taize songs of Good Friday, and lost myself in the cross our congregation had made. I read the texts over and over again. Out loud. In the sanctuary. Alone. And then it was time. It was time for Easter. So I changed the music and read the story again and stood in front of that cross and lived Easter morning. All by myself. And burst into tears.

Two minutes later, I was still sobbing, standing in the middle of the sanctuary, blasting Of A Father’s Love Begotten, acapella in four part perfect harmony, when our music minister walked in, silently sat down, and started sobbing herself. It was Easter.

Sunrise worship was short and beautiful. Then those wonderful, holy people came inside and we all turned the sanctuary over from Good Friday to Easter morning. I didn’t cry in front of them. But I wanted to.

We all retreated to our corners for naps- a couple elders went home, one went to the mission building, the music director claimed a couch in the bible study room, and I scrunched up on the big chair in my office. It was still for a bit.

I awoke to the copier printing. Then I heard the choir rehearsing. The door shutting. The band checking. The kids hustling. The bells ringing. Of course, I’d put the cross in the wrong place, so we had to move some things. And of course, I’d forgotten to print things and assign a couple things, and then there was that matter of a children’s sermon. Ack! But everyone picked up a piece and everything was covered and handled and orchestrated and it somehow was time for worship. And then there was this moment. It lasted the whole hour. This precious gathering of beloved family, who know real struggle and controversy, but who sit together in hope and love. And somehow, I got to speak to them. I got to speak to them. I got to tell them that we are all loved and forgiven and loved. I got to tell them that Jesus had already risen, even as it was still dark, even when they didn’t know it yet, even in places they didn’t know yet, that he’d already conquered it and risen and it was going to surprise and shock them and I said all that in a sermon I wasn’t proud to have written but somehow by the power of the Holy Spirit it was special in the moment I spoke it. And I could see it when I connected eyes with so many of them. Them whom I have come to love. And respect. And cherish. I got the words out just barely, and then I sat and burst into tears.

The service went on and I got to preside over the table, and that was a moment. And the day went on and there were conversations and meals and music and other moments. But that one. That one moment will be with me forever. The gift of this job. The gift of this call. The gift of this first Easter. The gift of God’s grace. All in that moment. Forever.

And yes, I’m ranting.

Here’s what I need you to know right now.
I can’t stop talking about this. I tried. I tried to talk and write about one of the other 9 billion causes I care passionately about. But my fingers felt heavy and my words felt far too light. Our city, my new city, the place where God has asked me to live and serve and plant roots and raise my kid, is cracking and steaming and crumbling and folding all at the same time, and in fifteen different directions. It’s happening in the church I serve, in my kid’s school, at every meeting, on every social media page, at the gas station, grocery store, coffee shop, and every fast food restaurant I frequent. Oh, and I frequent them. Because I have to get up from my desk because my head is exploding with every story I read of every violation, of every abuse, of every disrespect, every injustice, every outrage, of every frat boy singing, every federal government reporting, and every gun shot and unarmed black teen murdered by someone sworn to protect him. My heart is breaking anew each day. I cry out, O Lord, how long? How long will we allow this to go on? How long will we sit silent, being nice and avoiding conflict? How long will it take to convince all people that BLACK LIVES MATTER? That the legal penalty for petty theft or resisting arrest is not DEATH? That people who are mentally ill deserve help and not handcuffs? That there are good cops who make smart decisions NOT TO SHOOT PEOPLE every day? And that the ones who can’t make smart decisions shouldn’t be given guns? That white privilege needs to be checked? Including mine. Especially mine. Oh, and how every new day brings another horrible, rage inducing story. So, no, I can’t stop talking about it. Yeah, I am gonna be that girl. You’ll want me to move on. Or to give it a rest. I want me to move on. I really want to stop talking about this. But I can’t. We can’t. We mustn’t. So I need you to know that I’m going to keep bringing it up. And I will listen to you. Wherever you are. Even if you totally disagree with me. Especially if you totally disagree with me. But we’ve got to keep working on it. We’ve got to keep talking about it. We’ve got to. ALL of us. Until the system is fixed. Until the issues are exposed. Until the children feel safe. Until the body count stops. Until saying something like “Black Lives Matter” is no longer controversial.