The Delta, one story at a time.

There was evening, then morning, the first day.

And then, day upon days.

What a gift to be given life and breath in each day.

This particular day began in Memphis. Awaking without an alarm, a cup of coffee, leisurely reading scripture, reflecting in a journal, and scratching the ears of our loving, four legged, stranger-to-no-one, Jake.  And then I got on the road and followed a Jaguar past flat fields of green down into the Delta.


I left our truck in Clarksdale.  When I stepped out, this owl butterfly met me.  The wonder and beauty of nature continues to astound.


The day ended in Greenville.

Arriving at Does Eat Place, I had to step over and straddle a gutter full of rain from the afternoon shower.  We walked past a stove where steaks flamed up as they broiled and their drippings lingered in a tin drawer, waiting to be poured over the perfection that was T-bone or fillet.  We walked through the kitchen where bottles of olive oil stood like soldiers behind a stainless bowl of iceberg lettuce, while a handful of women pan fried potato fingerlings and plated food.

The people gathered at table this night.  The people.  The people.  The people.


“I was born in hope.”

At the end of the evening, that’s what he said to me.

“Anne, I was born in hope.”

He said this to me after he’d asked me, several times, to be still and to imagine.

“Anne.  Imagine the lowest of the low, the bottom of the bottom, the poorest of the poor.”

He’d rehearsed that invitation into imagination with others before – it was a test.  Would I really listen?  Was I there to take away?  Where would this lead us?

Grabbing me by the eyes, he said, “That’s me.  Save for my family, I didn’t matter.  I had to be in the fields before the sun rose until the sun didn’t shine.  I picked cotton.  Woke up, went to the outhouse, brushed my teeth out of a tin can and got to picking cotton.  We didn’t have anything.  Nothing.  When I went to school, all we had was someone’s discarded books, no covers, almost falling apart. And the stories they told, they were not my story, our story.  It was some mythical story I didn’t know to be true.”

Well.  There.  I had it.  A truth.

And I wandered into it blindly.

I mentioned the theologian Cornell West.  And his quote which I remember hearing him say in Memphis at a local gathering as, “One thing the church has failed to do is teach her people what it means to be human – we all came into this world in between feces and urine.”  I thought West’s metaphor was fantastical!  In a worship service, a man had dared to use the image of a vagina to shock a congregation into thinking about what it meant to be human, fully human and on a certain shared ground.

“We’re beings toward death, we’re … two-legged, linguistically-conscious creatures born between urine and feces whose body will one day be the culinary delight of terrestrial worms.” – Cornell West

Well.  There.  I thought I had it.  A truth.

And it spun me around and laid me out flat in humility.  These two men I was meeting with had little time for Cornell West’s fancy words on being human for his critique of President Obama.  I am a better student of that critique having been humbled at table.  Literally I thought I might have to get up from the table and go home and find someone else with whom to talk about hope and despair.

But, I begged a certain forgiveness and said, “I’m trying.  I’m here. I’m sorry.”


And Carver said to me,

“Anne, I’ve always known. I was born in hope.  I was born in hope.  We were born in hope.”

And for that moment, one story at table in the Delta, I’m grateful.  Exceedingly grateful.





New Harmony, Take One

On the way to General Assembly, Jim and I traveled to New Harmony, Indiana.  It was the quietest place I have ever been.  It also happens to be the place where the theologian, Paul Tillich, is buried.  We arrived late in the evening and set out to explore.  As heat lightening filled the sky, I walked the labyrinth.  Prayer.  Each step, prayerful.

I walked into the labyrinth with questions asked to Hagar by an angel of the Lord, “Where have you come from?’  “What troubles you?”  I settled in the center before I moved out, asking another question through scripture, “Where are you going?”

These questions are of God.  My feet could feel the difference of how the heat of the day’s sun dressed one stone differently than another.  In the moment of that night, I knew that sensation as God’s providence.  I knew the truth of the feeling that there are times when I sense God’s presence closer than others.  Learning to trust those feelings and thoughts of the nearness of God is one of the challenges of my life of faith.  Sometimes, it seems like it would be “easier” to deny that sense.  Though with confidence that I trust is borne of God, and Christ’s love for me, and the presence of the Spirit, out of that walk, that night, I was grounded in gratitude.  The kind of gratitude that slows me down, takes away words, and nurtures my life in memory and hope.

New Harmony Labyrinth

At the turn into this century, when I was in seminary, I took the month of January my first year, to take a class called Mission and Evangelism in the 21st Century.  The class was hosted by the World Council of Churches and required I live in Geneva for the month, away from our children, and the routine and rhythm we’d found in attending seminary, and commuting between Mobile and Decatur.

This was different.   This was a world away.  And, I was afraid.

One way we navigated that fear, was that before the class started, Jim and I went together to Geneva, and figured out some of the practicalities of negotiating what it would mean to live in a monastery and commute by bus to school in a foreign land.  Jim has always had these jobs where he has acquired points for travel – and has provided opportunities for us to either go places, or help others to go places.

So – this, laying of groundwork together, for preparing for what we’ve been called to do, is something we have learned together as a married couple.  It’s not about me.  It’s not about him.  It’s about us.

Jim took me most recently to New Harmony to help me be grounded for the work I was called to in St. Louis.  My task as a commissioner was to moderate the Theological and Church Growth Issues and Institutions Committee, more easily known as Committee 14.

New Harmony was a place to be grounded in God and the gifts we have been given together.  Tillich, critical of an understanding of God as a type of presence, suggested God be understood as the “Ground of Being-Itself.”  Alongside the Psalmist who asks, “Where can I go from your Spirit?” Tillich says, “There is no place to which we could flee from God, which is outside of God.” Anxious about moderating a committee of the General Assembly and for being away from the comforts of home, the physical space and presence of my lover, rooted me in gratitude before God, and maybe it sounds hokey, but it prepared me to be the best me.

Tillich bust

My husband, Jim, runs like the wind and in our home, we like to say, he rescues.  For his 50th birthday, our eldest daughter, Betsy, designed a plastic drinking cup, and ordered a sleeve of 50, as one of his gifts.  Imprinted on each cup, lest we forget, is one of his mantras, “There is no substitute for a good plan.”  Having lived with him over half of my life, I trust and know in my core that his “plan” is rooted in resurrection hope.

Years ago we hosted a group of Rhodes College girls for an evening prayer and bible study.  As we shared stories in our living room one night, the young women revealed none knew how to change a flat tire.  So, after a dinner with them on another night, Jim offered a learning opportunity with a question, “Who wants to learn how to change a tire?”  There they all went into the night, and out onto Galloway Avenue, into an on-the-streets classroom, learning how to change a tire.  And,  it was more than changing a tire.

Last week, a car in front of us hydroplaned in the middle of Interstate 55 as we were headed home.  We’d spent the day absorbing history through the Equal Justice Initiative museum and memorial in Montgomery, and seeing family and friends in Mobile, Alabama, and Jackson, Mississippi.

It was dark and raining, and seeing a car off the road, in the valley of the median, Jim stopped.  It’s like there is an inner switch in him that flips to a methodical check list.  The cynic in me says, maybe it is just the Eagle Scout in him or just the evidence of his parents moral compass translating through time, but the faithful in me knows differently.  In this week’s particular instance, Jim flicked on a battery operated orange light, put on a reflective vest and made his way to the driver.  While I sat gripped in a sense of fear on line with a 911 operator, aware of all I could lose in that moment when he stepped out into the night, and what I heard, what rose above my own fear about his safety, was his voice asking the driver, “Hey buddy, you okay?”

As time unfolds, I’m learning that the “more than” of this man, is that he risks himself for another.  That life of risk points to resurrection hope.  And, in case you are thinking or feeling it, let me name it.  Jim ain’t Jesus.  I know that.  Life in marriage isn’t always or hasn’t always been a nurturing bubble bath, warm lit candle or a Dairy Queen dipped cone – everything picture perfect and deliciously sound.  We have struggled righteously finding our course together and maturing as married partners.

Like the time he called me, “Wounded Bear” and I threatened at nine months pregnant to jump out the bathroom window if he didn’t “get the hell out of my way.”  Like the time he got out of the car, approached the driver in the car in front of us and handed back her cigarette butt, saying, “You dropped something.  Please don’t litter.”  And I said to him when he got back in the car, “Don’t ever put your family at risk like you just did or I’m gone.”  Like the time infidelity almost destroyed our potential to live within the covenant of marriage.

Jurgen Moltman suggests that Christian hope is resurrection hope and offers how John Calvin saw the same, yet continued to point us towards such resurrection hope.  “We are promised abundance of all good things – yet we are rich only in hunger and thirst.  What would become of us if we did not take our stand on hope, and if our heart did not hasten beyond this world through the midst of the darkness upon the path illumined by the word and Spirit of God!”

Maybe our family’s language of rescue for Jim isn’t the right word.  Maybe the word is reconciler.  His life points toward an internalized plan which stands on hope and taking prayerful actions that bear witness to such resurrection hope.  The hope that comes from risking our lives in the truth that Jesus came to this world that we might live in specific ways that point towards justice.


New Harmony is a town in which a reformer, Robert Owen, bought the town from Lutheran immigrants in 1825, with hopes of forming a Utopian society.  He said, “If we can not reconcile all opinions, let us endeavor to unite all hearts.”  It was an attempt at something right.  On a wall in the town, a quote by Brother Freeman reads, “A culture that does not teach prayer soon runs mad with desire.”

I wonder, as this sabbatical unfolds, how we as the church are teaching prayer?  What’s our plan?  Is instruction in prayer, through the lens of scripture, a way to learn about how to serve in the justice of a Living Lord, as our Jewish neighbors say, “Tikkun Olam”?

Surely we learn to pray in the strength of relationships we form with one another, and with those who live on the margins of society, with those who have been made poor.  Surely.  And also, need prayer be formed in the knowledge of the story of scripture, of Jesus Christ?

How do we know prayer as a place where we are grounded in the Ground of Being, where we address the warmth of God’s love, in Jesus Christ, who humbled himself to the point of death itself, and where we turn from fears and myopic desires towards risking ourselves for another.

I wonder.



Presence in the Garden

“Beauty is the harvest of presence.” – David Whyte

This week I spent time sitting in the garden.  I listened to the birds, the street traffic and the airplanes.  I watched the light in the trees and the birds on the electrical wire. I observed the dragonflies alighting in and out of the fountain’s water spray, their wings a beautiful blue. The color and structure of the flowers in the garden are a delight, a simple wow.  Gratitude comes with the ability to simply be present in the garden.

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“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk.  Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness.  I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of not thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.”

Soren Kierkegaard

I am grateful for the fountain in our back yard and the small one on our front porch.  A water’s edge of sorts, and below is a song called “Your Water” by Parker Millsap and Sarah Jarosz which a congregant shared with me.  These fountains remind me of Jesus’ words to the woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.  The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

Your Water

I am grateful for time spent transplanting, watering, weeding, and watching plants grow.  The beauty particularly of the lily that I transplanted from Kate Foster Connors garden on Dille Place twelve years ago is stunning and reminds me of Jesus’ words of instruction, “And why do you worry about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith?”

I am grateful for Overton Park and all those who meander, run, play and picnic there.  Being there reminds me of Psalm 1’s description of happiness, “They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither.  In all that they do, they prosper.”

This morning Jim and I walked out to begin the day with movement together.   During this Sabbatical, I’m attempting to recover my running life.  For the first three weeks, my goal has been two miles a day, for at least five days a week, and that’s been a hard task.  Jim asked me, “By Rhodes, through Hein Park, and the Greenline, or Overton Park?”  Overton Park was our route.

Somewhere along the line of theological learning, I picked up or put together the phrase, “I’m a Calvinist which means I don’t believe in luck, I belong to God’s providence.”

“We must know that God’s providence, as it is taught in Scripture, is opposed to fortune and fortuitous happenings. Now it has been commonly accepted in all ages, and almost all mortals hold the same opinion today, that all things come about through chance. What we ought to believe concerning providence is by this depraved opinion [providence is] most certainly not only beclouded, but almost buried. Suppose a man falls among thieves, or wild beasts; is shipwrecked at sea by a sudden gale; is killed by a falling house or tree. Suppose another man wandering through the desert finds help in his straits; having been tossed by the waves, reaches harbor; miraculously escapes death by a finger’s breadth. Carnal reason ascribes all such happenings, whether prosperous or adverse, to fortune. But anyone who has been taught by Christ’s lips that all the hairs of his head are numbered [Matthew 10:30] will look farther afield for a cause, and will consider that all events are governed by God’s secret plan. And concerning inanimate objects we ought to hold that, although each one has by nature been endowed with its own property, yet it does not exercise its own power except in so far as it is directed by God’s ever-present hand. These are, thus, nothing but instruments to which God continually imparts as much effectiveness as he wills, and according to his own purpose bends and turns them to either one action or another. “(John Calvin, I.16.2)

I’m glad God directed our movement to Overton Park.  As we came onto the trail into the park, I heard his voice singing scales.

And I remembered.

A long time ago, training for a marathon, Jim and I were running along Poplar, almost to town at St. Mary’s Cathedral.  We had heard someone singing scales, but never a complete scale.  We caught up with that person at a red light and he looked at us and said, “You don’t use it, you lose it.”

As we passed him, the same man, in the park this morning, I said over my shoulder, “You told me once, you don’t use it, you lose it.  Thank you for your wisdom!”  His response back was, “That’s right.  So right.” And he started another booming bass scale.

You don’t use it, you lose it.  It’s simple isn’t it?  And not so simple.  To be present, with oneself, and others, is a practice of faith and of providence.  If we don’t use it, and practice that presence, that resting in God’s providence, then we lose sight of the joy that is ours in Christ.

One way I practice presence is how I accommodate grief.

With gratitude for one who has died, or for another person in a place of significant transition, with prayer and reflection, I usually come to create found object art.  An example, is that after working with Seniors on their sermons for youth Sunday, I often produce a canvas to send off with them to college with the words from scripture to guard their lives in the way of Christ.  Another example is how Abigail and I sometimes work together to create images when the world seems to be fraying apart in violence.  We collage, paint, and create an image which becomes our collective prayer.


Another example, is that several years ago I had the privilege of being present in the hospital when my confirmation mentor, Rosemary Banta, died and passed from this world into the next.  That night I came home and painted a tree on a dark blue canvas – with prayers of gratitude for the ways in which she shaped my life.  Abigail joined me in the practice that night as Abigail was Rosemary’s Friday night dinner buddy with my parents.  Music played and we painted away.  But, I kept this canvas knowing it was unfinished, and with every project I did in the in-between time, I’d work atop it.

I think that was about the depth of grief, or complicated grief. The language of loss is that we all grieve differently but the truth is that this particular loss took me awhile to process.  I numbed an edge around my heart and I needed to work through the ways she had shaped my faith with creative teaching, intense connection and faithful compassion.  I needed to take in the fact that as she died, in her hospital room, my parents were there with me, my mother holding on to her feet.  We did that work together as a family in faith.  Interestingly enough, one reason I carry the story of Elijah meeting God in the sound of silence so close to my heart, is that Rosemary taught me this story when a mere child.  The story is in me, present in my bones.

This year, when another friend and congregant died, I came home and went back to that Rosemary canvas.  Abigail joined the practice.  We didn’t have words, nor music that night.  We mixed a slew of colors for the jumble of our emotions and came up with a brick red and covered the blue and the tree.  There was both deep sadness and a righteous anger – unexpected death is so damn hard.   We sketched a dragon fly atop the red. Abigail peeled dried paint off our palette, a swirl of color, and began to affix the swirled pieces to create the dragonfly wings.

Yesterday was my 52nd birthday.  I finished that dragonfly and the canvas now hangs on the wall.  On this canvas is much, but of note – keys found in the Jones Building clean out for all the stories that building holds for the people of faith at Idlewild; sea glass pulled from the shores of Lake Michigan on many a trip to Chicago; a bottle cap from a trip to CUBA; a piece of blue glass from a broken vase given to me as a gift from an Idlewild youth; a pulled apart collage Abigail and I made with blue paint during the Syrian refugee crisis; and also the title of this piece comes from that collage, “Unforgettable Stories:  The Resilience of the Human Spirit”  Yes.  The practice of presence.  If you don’t use it, you lose it.


Betsy and Daniel are making their way to Seattle where they are moving – after a long day of travel from Raleigh, they pulled in at 10:15 and we ate a late dinner.  James was able to get away from his EMT job at the hospital in Starkville and also came home.  The big kids were here together and we landed at table.  We miss Abigail who is in Jamaica with BASIC.  This glance before I went to bed made my mother’s heart exceedingly happy.  The practice of presence – we learn it, model it, live it – and the harvest is beautiful.  Simply beautiful.





Kansas City, Village Church


This time, last week, Jim and I had made our way to Kansas City, Kansas, where I had been invited to preach at Village Presbyterian Church.  

It was our second trip to Kansas this year. The first was for the Friday marriage of Emily Ruth, whom we now call, Scout, who went to college and now lives in Lawrence, Kansas.  

We used to call Scout, “the baby in the bubble.” Her family, Erica, Ken, Amy, Kenny, & John Owen, were our neighbors, and friends when we lived in Mobile, Alabama. We raised our older children together, sat up late on our front porches, and discussed politics and issues of faith.  They were mostly Baptist, and now have become Episcopalians.  

Before she could walk, Scout was a crazy fast crawler.  If we, as mothers had some project going on, we’d place Scout in the playpen inside the house and behind the big picture glass window on the front porch.  It’s where we kept her active-crawling-self safe while the four older children engaged in some crazy art project, or cookie decorating messiness.

On that first trip to Kansas, I ran along the Kansas River, the “Kaw” as the young adults at the wedding weekend called it.  As I ran, I stopped several times.

RoadKawThe first time I stopped at a break in the path where I could go down to the water’s edge.  I am drawn to that place, wherever I am.  I said some thank you prayers for the unexpected and unpredictable ways God brings people together. RiverKawThe second time I stopped was when this rustle of leaves stirred and lifted, like danced right in front of me.  Observing these free floating dry leaves, I discovered what I’d missed the first time I passed.  A gate nestled into a fence line – might have been bamboo – not sure, but the gate, the leaves, the piercing cold of that April day in Kansas, well, the starkness of the gate and the susurrus of the leaves was simply beautiful.  In the gospel of John, as one of the “I am” statements, Jesus says, “I am the gate.”  A gate is a threshold place – more on that later.  GateKawThe path ran behind a neighborhood.  I could smell woodsmoke from fireplaces and some folks had sculpture in their backyards, others had non-welcoming signs.  The third time I stopped, I picked up a small piece of plywood I’d run over on my way out and to gather some scraps of blue crushed something that were underfoot.  I knew I would put together into some found object art for a wedding gift.  That gift is the cover photo spelling LOVE.


This second trip to Kansas was to preach at the invitation of Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kansas.  Sabbatical Announcement  Following a church trip to Thwake, Kenya, where the church enjoys a partnership with the people, the head of staff, Reverend Tom Are, is taking sabbatical.  

The church invited four guest preachers to assist with the summer worship services in his absence. It was both a gift and a privilege to preach from the gospel of Mark the stories when Jesus heals on the Sabbath.  I shared a story about how I know God’s peace and God’s presence and the gift of resting in God – an honoring of the third commandment.  The gift of this sabbatical time is new every day.  Two weeks in, I am grateful for space to read, think, reflect and rest in God.  I’m exceedingly grateful for dedicated time with Abigail and Jim.  Though Jim consistently reminds me, “This isn’t my sabbatical.”


On this second trip to Kansas, we saw a completely different set of sights than our first which took us to Lawrence.  We stayed where the church put us, in town at the Raphael Hotel which was originally built as apartments for the adjacent Country Club Plaza, an area known as the Plaza. 

The Plaza History

Outside our hotel was an Italian sculpture. From different perspectives, it evoked my imagination.  It is actually a young boy removing a thorn from his foot.


On Saturday night after we arrived, we had dinner with Rodger Nishioka, who serves as a Senior Associate and Director of Adult Educational Ministries, and Hallie Hottle, who serves as an Associate for Young Adults, and her husband, Nick Dorn.  

At dinner we shared all sorts of stories as we grew to know one another.  Jim shared his creativity in how we came to find the hotel that day by driving through an industrial park he had toured years before while traveling on business.  It took us through an area of town where we encountered quite a rumble, as in motorcycles – culture and clubs. No, we didn’t stop, and yes, it was uniquely not the Plaza.  

A mostly unknown fact about Kansas City, is that same area on the margins of town has a salt mine, deep under the Kansas prairie, in which treasures from insurance companies to banks are kept safe because of the consistent temperature and humidity.  Go figure! Basements matter in Kansas City.  Hallie and Nick moved to Kansas City from Miami, Florida, so facts about basements represented new trivia details!  And sitting atop a salt mine makes me hear that line from the song, Light of the World, from Godspell, “But if that salt has lost it’s flavor, it ain’t got much in its favor.  You can’t have that fault and be the salt of the earth!”

Sunday morning we began with a run in Loose Park.  The public spaces in Kansas City are remarkable – picked up a ginkgo leaf and a rock.  Sunday at church began with a prayer with the Summer choir before the first service.  Instantly, as Rodger defined it for the congregation, I alienated myself from the choir by saying something like, “I come from the home of “Real” barbecue.”  That sideways remark made for some great conversation starters after worship, and a hearty lunch at Kansas City’s own, Gates Bar-B-Que. Gates BBQ 

Green StoleThere were three services to be preached – two in the morning, for which I was robed, and one in the late afternoon at The Gathering, which was more casual.  Of the two morning services, 9:30 and 11:00, the 9:30 service was more like Idlewild’s 11:00 o’clock service in attendance and form.  The choir sings at the 9:30 service.  It was the first week for the summer choir.  I was grateful to have my “ordinary” green stole made by the Idlewild Wednesday night women – connecting me back to home, with the Cuba hankie over my heart, reminding me of how I am connected to people and places all over the world.  The Village summer choir rocked the house.  The summer choir, like ours, rehearses before worship, though, unlike ours, they sit with their families in the pew, and come forward to sing the offertory.  I appreciated working ahead with Matthew Shepard preparing for the Sunday music – praying and listening through the scripture lesson.  Village does sermon series, they are not a “lectionary” preaching church.  I discovered that the Sunday before, Tom had preached the exact same text that I was preaching.  Ah well, another place to be grateful for the work of the Holy Spirit and to remember that it is not not all about me.  Both morning services had a comfort level of “feeling like home” in liturgy and song.

After the worship services, there were so many connections to Memphis.  “Do you know the Fogelman’s?  They’re some of our best friends!”  “I went to Southwestern at Memphis, now Rhodes, and my grandson’s playing lacrosse there now.”  “We occasionally worship at Idlewild when we are in town, but we don’t sign the book.”  An interesting ministry of the deacons at Village is that they stand at the doors with the pastors after worship available to the congregants and visitors to share concerns and celebrations, and to pray.  Specific prayer concerns are not lifted in worship, but are available on a list on line.  


The Gathering, the 5:30 service, will celebrate its second, “redo-birthday” this next week.  Redo – only in the sense that the church decided, after a renovation of space, to relaunch the Gathering at another time on Sunday.  Instead of it being a third Sunday morning service, where the preacher had to hop from service, to service, to service, the Gathering moved to 5:30 Sunday evenings.  During the children’s time in the Gathering, as one young boy crawled up onto the riser, Pastor Hallie balanced keeping him safe, and asking the children, “What shall we have at the Gathering Party? How shall we celebrate what God is doing new here?”  I think there will be, at a minimum, balloons and candy!

Gathering 2

The Gathering is an alternative, although Reformed, eucharistic worship service. The print pieces are designed by Abigail, a young adult member, who is a graphic designer.  This service has screens, a “set”, contemporary music and was attended by a remarkable scope of ages. Babes who were crawling, elementary children who served enthusiastically as ushers, teens, young adults and the rest of us middle aged and older.  Many generations were represented and the service had a great sense of community, and you could feel how it was thriving with Hallie’s leadership. Likewise, I could sense her love of the people in the ways she worked with the leadership and formed her words. It was not only beautiful, and full of wonder, but hopeful.

downloadThe musicians were a group called Barnaby Bright Barnaby Bright, led by members, Becky and Nathan Bliss.  They invite their musician friends to join them.  Sometimes the congregation gets a bass and a guitar, other times maybe a few fiddlers.   Becky and Nathan were just back from a trip abroad where they had played a wedding gig in Italy.  Becky is also the Young Adult Coordinator at Village who works with Pastor Hallie, and who grew up in the church. On no sleep, these musicians, and their friends on bass, guitar and keyboard,  were fantastic! Becky played the harmonium and following communion, a young girl walked up and joined in with the tambourine for the closing music.  

After the Gathering we went to dinner with a group of young adults. Being at table with Hallie, Nick, Molly, Abigail, Caitlin and Brad was like table fellowship with the Idlewild Young Adults.  Great fun, lots of laughter and genuine conversation.  That’s when we got down to talking about hope and despair.  

After some institutional storytelling, we heard about an art project where ribbons were clandestinely hung as a liturgical statement in the sanctuary.  Literally in the middle of the night, with the help of an onsite lift, to celebrate a season in the church, reams of primary colored ribbon were hung as a canopy in the sanctuary.   “It was shocking, but so right.” “Nobody had EVER done anything like that before.”  Art crashed it’s way into the sanctuary and now it’s an epic memory the congregation embraces about God doing a new thing.  Brad runs all the tech for the church – he named specifically the two fiddlers who sometimes joined Barnaby Bright, and how their music evokes a plaintive call for hope, “no matter where you are in life, music grounds you in hope.”  

Another hope story that emerged was about a Young Adult trip to Agua Prieta which is a border city near Douglas, Arizona.  This was yet another connection with Idlewild and the trips we have taken, and the ways we have supported with Christmas Gift Bags to Mark Adams’ ministry there with the PC(USA). Journeying in Hope

The young adults talked about a woman they met, Patti, Ginko Journalwhose life exemplified hope, against any possibility for hope, in her story to cross into the United States with her children to escape domestic violence.  One definition of hope was this, … “The point at which you know there is no rope ladder, and yet you continue to find a way to climb.” Despair was also seen and named in their encounter with Patti.  That deep desire to fix a broken place, and the inability to help her physically get into the country and the fears faced at border crossings. As they remembered, this listening time went from silent pauses, to belly laughter.  It made me mindful of how time spent serving together in ministry, and then at table, shapes the ways we see and how we remember God’s graciousness.

As Jim and I reflected on our time together in Kansas, we have confidence that it is a good idea for a pastor to get outside of her ministry context.  To see how God works in other places, and to live with an openness to the trust that the Spirit grows us through these experiences.  God was busy at the work of instruction.  I came away from this visit inspired and grateful for having had the opportunity to learn about being church in another geographic context. 

When we arrived on Monday to meet and talk about hope and despair with some of the church staff, the first thing we saw were children from the school on a “service hunt” outside moving their bodies – skipping, tip toeing, taking oversized steps.  Once the children made it inside, a small group would interview a staff member, asking, “Is there a job we can do for you?” I don’t know the details of how it all came together, whether the staff member anticipated the visit, but all of a sudden, the children were at work with a specific project.  These were preschoolers! 

Earlier in this blog, I described an experience with the woman in the airport bathroom to whom I gave my prayer beads.  This was on the return trip after our first trip to Kansas City. In the airport that day, I was sad to leave the joyful weekend we’d experienced.  My heart was full with the memories of being young adults and growing in faith with good friends.  Leaving them, and the memories, was a “letting go.” And the way the woman read me, “sad” was spot on.  I’m grateful she didn’t “Keep Out” what she experienced, but instead engaged me.  


I left Kansas city this time with a sense of curiosity and joy. 

Programmatically, I wonder about how the Gathering might inform a similar worship experience at Idlewild? We used to have The Festival, once a month, and yet, this Gathering is a totally different experience – fully supported institutionally as a worship of the church. Whoever preaches the morning services, preaches the Gathering.  

Village has 9 buildings on their campus, a membership of 5,000 people, a school onsite, and a satellite campus which also operates a school.  Hearing how they came to have a satellite church, and how the Session worked through that decision, was intriguing. 

Listening to the folks talk about church, I heard much about how the recent renovation which was about creating a welcoming place and central church entry has unexpectedly shifted some things like fellowship and traffic patterns for the flow of people on Sunday mornings. This makes me curious about our own More Idlewild building project.  Observing some technical pieces of publicity, I have some curiosities about our publications, particularly as we move into stewardship season – particularly, how do we ground our theme in God’s abundance?  Hope?

A sense of joy for me was sitting at table with the young adults.   Molly is a geologist.  I laughed and said something like, “Rocks talk to me” and shared pictures of the ritual that a friend did with me to launch this Sabbatical.

Hallie turned to Molly and said,  “Tell her about the irony of “The Rock.”

Through the work of the young adults, and the Spirit, Molly had heard a call to ministry, with “The Rock.” Molly starts at Princeton Seminary in the Fall.

Hearing Molly’s story reminded me of our story.  Before I ever contemplated ministry, or before I heard God’s call to ministry, we were very active, young adult church members.  With Jim, we served in youth ministry. We went on the youth trips as advisors, ate a lot of pizza on Sunday nights, played games, directed plays and musicals and grew in biblical faith.  It was during those days when we first met Rodger Nishioka at Spring Hill Presbyterian Church in Mobile, Alabama. He was visiting the Presbytery of South Alabama, and Spring Hill Presbyterian Church, from the denominational headquarters where he was working.  We were all in our late 20’s then and somehow it’s over twenty years later and we find ourselves friends in Christ, picking up with one another as if we talked daily.  These friendships matter.

When we were walking into the church on Sunday I asked Rodger, “What’s a good question you’ve been asked?”  He related a Barbara Brown Taylor story in which she shared the questions someone had asked her when she was at a point of frustration,  “Well, what are you doing?  What gives you life?”  

Those questions resonate with me as I contemplate hope and despair.  Listening with Rodger in his study, we talked about hope and despair.  Despair is hard to talk about because we are afraid where it takes us – despair is that dark night of the soul – the disruption of God’s order, the sense that in the good of God’s creation, something leaves you with a gut knowing of “This is not right.”  It’s where the work of Justice begins.

We shared stories from our own lives, and of those whom we pastor. We know the truth of the words, “This is not right.”  Young, supposedly healthy, people aren’t supposed to die early.  Secrets aren’t to be kept or to tear families apart.  We went from talking about despair to talking about hope and how we “get to hope.”

Rodger reminded me of The Hunger Games quote by the character, President Snow.

“Hope, it is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective, a lot of hope is dangerous. A spark is fine, as long as it’s contained.”

This quote names the danger of our faith in Christ – when we dare to hope, and to remember that we are in sync with God, who has us in Love, we are transformed and continually transforming.  We are a people of hope.

Hope is a real thing.  It takes patience. And, in the church, we have to both model and to teach hope.  And again, it takes patience and trust.



I have deep gratitude for connections in Christ – they give me hope.  Through time I have seen the work of God in particular communities where we have reminded ourselves not to collude with despair, but instead to collude with love, hope, joy – the transforming work of God in Christ Jesus.

Following the whirlwind of Boston and Kansas City, this last week was about doctor’s appointments, resting, reading and reflecting.  A short post with some images will follow.  Looking ahead to this next week, and having read Mem Fox’s, Whoever You Are, has me thinking about General Assembly in St. Louis.

“Smiles are the same, and hearts are just the same, wherever they are, wherever you are, wherever we are, all over the world.”


Some joyful, hopeful community images.

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Rilke Longing Words

Added to the Sabbatical bibliography is a children’s book written by Frances Poletti & Kristina Yee, entitled, The Girl Who Ran.  It tells the story of Bobbi Gibb, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon.  In the year in which I was born, there was disbelief that a woman could, and prohibition that she would, run a marathon.  And, against the odds, Bobbi Gibb, overturned false beliefs about women, making a statement.  Kathrine Switzer was the woman who registered under KV Switzer the following year, 1967, whom the race director tried to physically pull off the course.

PBS Video Bobbi Gibb

From the Book of Hours, I 59, Rilke says this,  

You, sent out beyond your recall, go to the limits of your longing.  Embody me.”

Well, a solid “Yes!” to the poet.

To recall is to remember.  Sent to go beyond memory? I celebrate some days that I brush my teeth and get my running shirt put on with the right side out, or more simply, I celebrate if I get out to move my body in any physical way.

When Bernie, one of our faithful security guards, meets me at the church door he usually asks, “How are you?” The not so spontaneous response he elicits from me is, “Well, I have my clothes on, I’m here, and speaking English which you understand, … so I think I’m good.”  

seeking stillness

The covert cynicism of my response, or the glib lightness with which I respond, makes me realize that much stands “there” when I am sent out beyond recall. Much stands, both in the shadow and in the light. A scripture text that I carry pretty close to my heart is Elijah’s encounter with God in the sound of sheer silence. In that “there” moment, Elijah met God.  In seeking stillness, and taking time for stillness, I find that limit of my longing, that place where I can embody and reflect the graciousness of God in the seriousness of life.


On the weekend my Sabbatical began, the last pastoral “act” I tended was the committal of ashes graveside for a dear friend and Idlewild member.  Pastor Steve and I shared in this responsibility. Steve began, and did the front end of the committal, and I followed with the words and actions following the finality of placing the ashes back into the earth.  I stood graveside and before I spoke, a small white feather alighted on my shoulder.  This happened right before I was to speak the words of committal. What I saw was a fluff of white, come across my line of sight, which I brushed away.  I had work to do, words to speak. Yes.  A limit of my longing.  Yes. A place of embodiment.  You can’t so easily brush away hope, nor despair.  

It was earthy. It was right there- hope and despair – in ankle high grass, with big black crickets underfoot.  It was as if the grass was a lake, and the crickets, a school of minnows, weaving their way through a current of our gratitude and grief. I stood next to Pastor Steve, in between the family, facing the granite monument etched with the family name. As I brushed that white wisp away, I began the familiar, and rote refrain, “In the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to almighty God, …” Response to Stress A wearied state is not part of God’s plan.  God took on creation, and on the seventh day, rested.  And suggested, no commanded, that we honor that day and keep it holy. A day for rest.  Not made for itself, but by God for us, to remember all that God has done. Humanity was not made for the sabbath, but sabbath for humanity.  A question to ponder, … how do you find rest and renewal?  How do you behave in stress?  What are your coping mechanisms?  Do you internalize, focus and move fast?  Or, do you open your eyes wide and move slowly and with intention through the stress?  Those are two extremes, maybe a mash up of the two is more realistic?  

In the winter of 1897, the French painter, Gauguin experienced a psychological crisis.  He had left France for Tahiti, and had hoped to discover an unspoiled paradise at the turn to the twentieth century.  Instead, he found himself in conflict with the French colonial authorities, the powers and principalities of his day. He struggled financially; he wrestled with life, he contemplated suicide.  At this limit of his longing, he asked hard questions and brought them to life in an image of a woman. This woman’s figure is drawn through her life, on a rough canvas, from infant to crone.

IMG_7892emerging adolescenceinto late life

In Gauguin’s painting, “Where Do We Come From?  What Are We? Where Are We Going? We are invited to read the image like the Hebrew Bible, right to left.  Two of the questions are not new. They are questions asked by an angel of the Lord to Hagar, in Genesis, “Where have you come from?”  and “Where are you going?”

Whole Image


Well, certainly God knows, though still, to Hagar, the angel asks.  And perhaps that is the impetus for asking ourselves, where have we come from?  Where are we going?  

In Boston, I had the privilege of meeting so many good people.

In Boston, we saw fine art, both modern and ancient, at both the Boston Fine Arts Museum, and the Institute of Contemporary Art.  

It took a day for us to get there by plane, and we arrived in time to take supper with a Pastor Burns Stanfield, who pastors Fourth Presbyterian Church in South Boston. Burns is recently widowed, his wife Lorraine was a physician and together they have three young adult children. Fourth Presbyterian Church, South Boston 

The stories we shared at table were profound – and rooted in hope and despair – and staying church in the midst of it all. Three things.

  1.  Burns was raised in the midwest but came east for school and ended up taking time off because he was a musician. That gift of music informs ministry, day in and day out – after listening to his stories, I realized with him that music was hope’s propeller.  
  2. We live in a small world. Almost 20 years ago, I was writing intergenerational curriculum called “We Believe.” My mentor, Kathy Dawson, worked with Burns who wrote, performed and cut a musical CD to go with the curriculum.  We raised our older children singing those songs – so to be at table with Burns, the composer, well, … it was special.  We were eating in a place called Comedor . A Memphis clergy friend, Sam, recommended it. Our server was Adam.  
  3. Adam knew Burns because he had been Burns’ student and was also a talented musician. Musicians wrestle and they certainly connect. Come to find out – we all knew one another, through one another. Adam was a student with Sam, who now lives and pastors in Memphis and recommended Comedor. Burns knows Sam, and was even at his wedding! And, … here’s the clincher – Pastor Steve strongly influenced Burns when he was a young seminary graduate considering pastoral ministry living out an internship in Buckhorn, Kentucky, in Appalachia.  We were stunned by all the connections, but not.  Evidence of the work the Spirit.

One of the things I wanted to talk to Burns about was trauma – and how the church is present in such.  Music is the key for Fourth Presbyterian – and other creative ventures. The location in South Boston has shifted over the 27 years he has been pastor, though he is working with the theologian, Shelly Rambo, on practices that inform faith and help to navigate trauma.  The church is located between two housing developments and over the last decade the area has seen the displacement and change which comes alongside gentrification.   

Burns brought his intergenerational Confirmation Class south on a Civil Rights tour, but they didn’t make it to Memphis.  We wondered together about a shared missional encounter in Memphis, a partnership in ministry between two connectional PC(USA) churches.  We wondered about making it about music – and going to the Delta.  We shall see.

At the hotel where we stayed, we met Charles and Amber.  Charles had a story every morning over coffee.  He set us on the Freedom Trail, which we walked one day, basically back AND forth, and he helped us to figure out the underground transportation system.  Abigail wasn’t too happy about our supermarche’ one night walking back to town from the Fine Arts Museum – though we stopped at the Boston Public Library for a reading and writing break from walking.  Not all who wander are lost, AND the streets of Boston are not laid out ON A GRID. Fun fact discovery at the library, the Encyclopedia of the Reformation is found right before the Encyclopedia of the Future, with a little bit of geography in between.  Why do such things crack me up so that I cackle aloud?

Lion Boston Library          Abigail Boston LibraryReformed Future Boston Library

Amber was another young woman we met.  Her name, like the gemstone, means “solidified sunshine.”  She defined hope for me in a relationship with her cousin who was once the troublemaker, but now the listening counselor.  Not fate, but the providence of a God who placed him back into a school where he was once expelled, as a counselor.  Hope emerging from despair.  Abundance from scarcity and disbelief.

Stephanie Paulsell teaches at Harvard Divinity School.  I had hoped to meet with her but she was abroad on a Virginia Wolfe Pilgrimmage.  I’d reached out to her ahead of travel based on a practice she is using in the classroom at Harvard Divinity School.  That led to a conversation and the language of the “inexhaustibility of God.” She instructed me that the phrase is from Caroline Emelia Stephen, 20th c British Quaker theologian, raised by an evangelical father–she said that he taught her, not that the Bible was infallible, but that it was inexhaustible.

After time in Boston, this is what I know about hope – it is definitively connected to being part of a community.  And this is what I know about despair – it is harder to talk about and requires a level of trust to even scratch at the surface.

Hope Grafitti

Art is a vehicle for discussing hope and despair.  One event we attended was the showing of a film entitled The Intense Now.  Somewhere awhile back I preached a sermon that had a refrain, “What if it is not what’s next, but instead, what now?”  This film – I recommend seeing it, and it is long.  I’m still processing the history it tells and how the way different images and perspectives of telling shape history.  What will people remember about what it means to be church in these early twenty first century days?   Language from the Book of Common Worship which we use to pray at gravesides includes these words, “Help us to believe where we have not seen, trusting you lead us through our years.”

Like my yes to the poet about going to the limits of my longing and embodying God’s grace there,  well … a similar yes to the help us to believe and to trust.  I leave this particular reflection with images from the interactive gallery exhibit at the Institute by the artist, Wangechi Mutu, entitled, A Promise to Commuicate.




Sabbatical Weekly View


I knew her voice to be prophetic.

That unknown blessing already on its way is this sabbatical where I can dive into reading, reflecting, questioning, writing and exploring, with others, the biblical concepts of hope and despair and how they play out in life, specifically in imaginative practices of faith, in loving kindness, in the church.

Hope is a funny thing.

For me, it is best described by the poet, Emily Dickinson, whose poem, “Musicians Wrestle Everywhere” set to music I sang in college and that one experience led me deeper into poetry.

“Hope is the thing that perches in the soul, and sings the songs without words, and never stops at all.”

Hope is an undercurrent, a grounding force, Love’s mystery.

Hope is the whisper of the wind in the trees, dawn’s first light in their canopy, the way roots reach and cling to the earth.

Hope is the ever changing water’s edge – the softness of the place where earth relents to water, the treasure that glistens beneath, the way in which water always finds its level.

For me, hope is grounded in Jesus Christ. My life and vocation – well, they are bound in that claim about Christ, swaddled in God’s good and gracious love.

Hope is deeply seated and rooted in a solid and courageous sense of trust in a gracious God and the abundance of Christ’s mercy. When daily life becomes so rushed, or regulated, that scarcity dominates my imagination, I become entrapped in the narrative of production.

That means I make hope hard to see and hard to come by.  When I would rather color code a list than sit down and savor a Psalm or I would rather see a calendar full of meetings to produce programs, instead of sit with people and listen and pray, I’m taking on work for Pharaoh’s church.  When I see this in myself, and in my work through the church, then, I know. I’m fast at work building bricks for Pharaoh’s church.

Facilitating a servant leadership class for Memphis Theological Seminary, I came across a line, “Brooding marks time to be free from Pharaoh.”

The intensity of living life in all the roles that I have the privilege of carrying, can become a senseless practice of building bricks for no end but save for the myth of scarcity.  That I’m not enough, that I have to get “out there” for God, creating opportunities for creative play and recreation; joyful fellowship and evangelism, health and wholeness.  That there isn’t enough of much of anything.  I have to “make more bread” for the all-encompassing, spiritually longing and forever hungry. I know profoundly how scarcity works in the church.

With vulnerability, in some ways I sense that when I’m in my production mode, I have an uncanny ability to forget. I can forget the pain that accompanies love. When you love a people with the love of God in Christ Jesus and when you walk with them through the valley of the shadow of death it can be very hard to let go.

The sadness of grief is real for me, for the ways in which I have carried and held hearts and lives before God. I’ve pleaded for mercy as cancer genes mutated and as one more young adult woman texted, “The test came back negative. No baby, … again.” With confidence I speak the hope filled words in our funeral liturgy, “We believe in that which we have not seen, and even so we make our song at the grave, alleluia, alleluia.” And, in seven years, and so many stories of people whom I love, I know the sadness of grief that ushers a whisper of despair into my life.

I remember sitting bedside with a young fierce lawyer in our congregation who demanded, “Why do you care about me?” Her oncologist had been there, and he’d said, “We’ve done all we can do.” Her will to live was extreme, yet the cancer was stronger. In that space, I asked her, “What did you hear the doctor say?” She shouted back at me, “WHY ARE YOU HERE? WHY DO YOU CARE?”

To her whys, my answer was, “Jesus’ inescapable love.” Her shouting eventually led to her confession, “I need you to help me to make meaning and find hope in each day that I do have.” She said what I know to be the truth of holy moments in community, “I need you to help me to make meaning and find hope.”  Her challenge was the work of justice.

I know the truth of what happens when I am not intentional about taking the time daily to brood in scripture and to reflect. Pastoring is hard work as I balance the multiple and abundant roles I have in this life, and this Sabbatical comes at a “right” time.

It’s easy to say, “There’s too much going on at church – reorganization of the Nurture Ministry Unit, supervision of employees, trying to start an internship program, a 9 million dollar building project, strategic planning with a consultant, minimal programming budgets for almost a decade, and a new 501C3 launching in another ministry unit and which is overtly challenging the status quo of how we do church.”

I’ve questioned if my labor with Christ has become mediocre and my pastoral calling in the greater context of fear.  That question sounds like, “Anne, are you being faithful to serving Christ as a teaching elder or forgetful?”

In my forgetting, in my brick building, it’s become harder for me, and for me with others, and the Holy Spirit, to make meaning and find hope. The world seems fractured, because it is. The truth is, maybe it always has been.

This year, I stood in the Pride Parade staging line and I carried anxiety that I couldn’t shake with a deeper breath. The feeling I had was fear. I worried that maybe this was the year that instead of the safe, behind the curb protesters, holding placards with stupid childlike anatomical drawings there might be one, just one, gun wielding individual who could senselessly take my life away.

The Temptations released a song in the 1970’s entitled, Ball of Confusion. The lyrics name open despair and disordered confusion.

Well, the only person talkin’ ’bout love thy brother is the preacher

And it seems nobody’s interested in learning but the teacher

Segregation, determination, demonstration, integration, aggravation,

humiliation, obligation to our nation

Ball Of Confusion that’s what the world is today (yeah, yeah)

I did march at Pride, and there was no gun wielding maniac. Instead, the young man on my right, when asked how he was feeling, said, “Hopeful” and something like, “Seen.”  He understood God’s abundance.

Instead of dodging semi-automatic gunfire, I was pelted by the shout of my name from the curb. Standing on the curb was the mother of a congregant – she shouted gratitude from the curb. Over the last decade, one of the justice issues for which I have felt called to be an ally at both the Presbytery level and with congregants is the GLBT movement.

Our Presbytery has gone from having over seventy congregations, to about thirty congregations primarily over LGTB issues. At a meeting out in a country church, I listened as one woman said about a colleague, “You are killing my daddy’s church.” Hurtful, hard words and at that time, I didn’t say a darn word to defend my colleague.

Months after this year’s Pride Parade, with my clergy colleagues, and in the Idlewild sanctuary, we officiated the wedding of two women whom we love.  It was our first gay wedding as a congregation. It wasn’t a win, it was right. It was a witness to God’s love and mercy. Hope was there in the context of despair’s confusion – the depth and width of God’s love and justice was at play.

MLK 50 was a big deal in Memphis this year. I first lived in Memphis in the 60’s. It’s where I first remember learning that my parents cared about something beyond themselves. It is where I began to learn a sense of, capital J, “Justice.” Black and white activists gathered in our living room and they talked long into the night. I could listen from the stair landing behind the cast iron hand rail on the steps, but eventually I tired and climbed away to put myself to sleep.

As a church, in a new church development, we met to worship in a place of affluence, The Hutchison School library, and we met and went out onto the streets, and into certain schools, because that’s what the church did together, “Justice.” The church was fed in the belly of affluence, and yet crafted hope in living rooms and through relationships and action out on the streets of Memphis.

When our family moved back to Memphis fifteen years ago, I toured the Civil Rights Museum with Reverend Billy Kyles as guide. When we got to that space where King spent his last minutes, Reverend Kyles said, “I picked out Martin’s tie that day. He asked me to.” And then he went on, “And when I heard the shots and came to kneel beside him, I saw the knot in that tie I’d picked out severed by the bullet.”

Reverend Kyles, lost in the trauma of that day, said, “I’ve always wondered why, … why was I there? Why did I live? And I’ve determined that the answer is so that I might be a witness.” Reverend Kyles used the language, “That I might be a witness.” So borrowing from Reverend Kyles, I understand my calling best to be about living as a witness to hope in the midst of despair. Hope. This is what I know, Jesus leads me to hope.  We live into hope when we serve to make meaning in God’s power, and Jesus’ name, seeking righteousness.

Over the last six years, our congregation has partnered with a church in CUBA, Juan G. Hall Presbyterian Church. This relationship also frames my understanding of hope and despair. When I was a student at Columbia Theological Seminary, in Decatur, Georgia, there was a group of international scholars gathered to think about what mission in the 21st Century looked like.

The privilege I was given as a student was meeting with these scholars in the refectory for coffee or after chapel and engaging in conversations around mission. I distinctly remember Ophelia Ortega from Cuba.

Women’s rights were different in Cuba. The discrimination I was feeling as a woman in ministry from Alabama, didn’t exist in the same ways Cuba. Her stories were profound about women in ministry and the church in Cuba. Ophelia helped me to make meaning and to find hope.  When an opportunity arose for a relationship with this church and her people in Cuba, it was a strong and clear call to be present. The church in Cuba, and her people, has shaped my understanding of hope and despair, and scrappy genuine practices of faith for the church.

Sabbatical Process

This is what I know.

I am best as a pastor when I engage my imagination, and when I listen to the whispers of creativity, see the beauty that is before me, and respond out of that place. The whispers of creativity and the beauty before me is God’s work.

4 Leaf Clover May 2018Answering my own question, “Yes.” I am called as a teaching elder with Christ, for Christ, in Christ. This is what I hope. I hope that this time away on sabbatical can help me to explore questions about hope and despair, and make connections that enrich not only my life as a pastor, but which also inform practices of faith for the church I serve.

Yes. One could easily conclude that the planning for my sabbatical is simply building more bricks. I’m hopeful it is not that but instead, “Time marked for brooding.” Time to listen, reflect, and treasure the inexhaustible love of God at work in the world.


Reading List


Reading List

Reference texts will help with big picture themes of Creativity and Leadership.

Children’s Books.  Each week I will read one book picked from our family treasure trove and explore and listen through a lens directed toward children.

Weekly texts will guide my exploration.  In the weekly listing of texts, the first six books I hope to complete – some I’ve already read and feel a calling back to, or I have started and not finished.  The remainder in the weekly list, I will draw from, as they seek to inform the question of the week. I’ve left the last three weeks open for finishing what I haven’t started, or for the addition of other readings.


History of Art, H.W. Janson, Third Edition

A Child’s Book of Art, Selected by Lucy Micklethwait

Sanctifying Art, Deborah Sokolove

Good Humor Book, Robert Rango, editor

How to Draw Anything, Angela Gair

Tinkertoys, Michael Michalko, Second Edition

Grief and the Expressive Arts:  Practices for Creating Meaning, Barbara E. Thompson and Robert A. Neimeyer

Contemporary American Poetry, Behind the Scenes, Ryan Van Cleave

The Craft of Poetry, William Packard, editor

Devotions, Mary Oliver

Book of My Nights, Li-Young Lee

Rumi, The Big Red Book: The Great Masterpiece Celebrating Mystical Love & Friendship, Coleman Barks

The Kingdom of Ordinary Time, Marie Howe

Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzo

The Brazen Plagiarist, Selected Poems,  Kiki Dimoula

The Paraclete Poetry Anthology Selected and New Poems, Mark Burrows, editor

Navigating Change:  A Field Guide to Personal Growth  W Gary Gore

The  Dance of Change, The Challenge to Sustaining Momentum in Learning Institutions, Peter Senge

Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times:  Being Calm and Courageous, No Matter What, Peter Steinke

Living By Choice:  Making Decisions that Define Your Life, Michael L. Nelson


Children’s Books:

Whoever You Are, Mem Fox

Chicken Sunday, Patricia Polacco

Charlotte’s Webb, E.B. White

Journey to the Heart, Centering Prayer for Children

Everett Anderson’s Goodbye, Lucille Clifton

Big Momma Makes the World, Phyllis Root

Voice from Afar, Poems for Peace, Tony Johnston

You are my I Love You, MaryAnn K Cusimano

The Kissing Hand, Audrey Penn

The Little Engine that Could, Watty Piper

Sky Tree, Thomas Locker

Knots on a Counting Rope, Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault

The Stranger, Chris Van Allsburg


Week One:  

Hope for the World, Mission in a Global Context, Walter Brueggemann, Editor

No Innocent Bystanders:  Becoming and Ally in the Struggle for Justice, Shannon Craigo-Snell & Christopher J. Doucot

Habits of Hope:  A Pragmatic Theory, Patrick Shade

A Gospel of Hope, Walter Brueggemann

Resurrecting Wounds:  Living in the Afterlife of Trauma, Shelly Rambo

Prayer is a Hunger, Edward J Farrell]

Medicine as Ministry, Margaret E. Mohrmann, M.D.

Holding on to Hope:  A Pathway through Suffering to the Heart of God, Nancy Guthrie

Waking up White any Finding Myself in the Story of Race, Debby Irving


Week Two:

The Colonizer and the Colonized, Albert Memmi

Marking Time:  Preaching Biblical Stories in Present Tense, Barbara Lundblad

The Faith Club:  A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew – Three Women Search for Understanding, Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver and Priscilla Warner.

Slow is Beautiful, New Visions of Community, Leisure and Joie de vivre, Cecile Andrews

Give and Take, Why Helping Others Drives our Success, Adam Grant

Hallelujah Anyway, Rediscovering Mercy, Anne Lamott


Week Three:

The Teaching of the Church Regarding Baptism, Karl Barth

Tears We Cannot Stop, Michael Eric Dyson

The Long Loneliness, Dorothy Day

Teaching Community, A Pedagogy of Hope, Bell Hooks


Week Four:

The Invisible Embrace Beauty:  Rediscovering the True Sources of Compassion, Serenity and Hope, John O’Donohue

A Spirituality of Caregiving, Henri J.M. Nouwen

A Spirituality of Fundraising, Henri J.M. Nouwen

Teaching to Transgress, Education as the Practice of Freedom, Bell Hooks


Week Five:

Teaching Critical Thinking, Bell Hooks

Originals:  How Non-conformists Move the World, Adam Grant

Feel Free, Zadie Smith

Hidden in His Own Story, Discovering Jesus in the Parables of the Gospels, Andrew Walton

The Book of Qualities, J. Ruth Gendler

Being an Instrument of Peace, Usha Jesudasan


Week Six:

Awake to the Moment:  The Workgroup on Constructive Theology, Laurel C. Schneider and Stephen G. Ray, Jr., editors

The Reckless Way of Love:  Notes on Following Jesus, Dorothy Day

The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, Belden Lane

The Desert Mothers Spiritual Practices from the Women of the Wilderness, Mary C. Earle

Everything Happens for a Reason, Kate Bowler

Dispatches from Pluto, Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta, Richard Grant

Option B Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

Week Seven:

Just Hospitality, Letty M. Russell

The Mothers, Brit Bennett

The Thirst of God, Contemplating God’s Love with Three Women Mystics, Wendy Farley

How to Handle Grief, Tracks of a Fellow Struggler, John Claypool

Becoming Wise:  An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, Krista Tippett

Discernment, Henri Nouwen

The Forgetting, Alzheimer’s:  Portrait of an Epidemic, David Shenk

Rising Tide:  The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America, John M. Barry

Week Eight:

Grateful:  The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks, Diana Butler Bass

Preaching at the Crossroads:  How the World and our Preaching is Changing, David J. Lose

Exploring Forgiveness, Robert D. Enright & JoAnna North, editors

All The Names They Used for God, Anjali Sachdeva

Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering, Kelly M. Kapic

Uncut Funk A Contemplative Dialogue, Bell Hooks and Stuart Hall

Week Nine:

The Trip to Bountiful, Horton Foote

The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion

Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, Christiane Northrup, M.D.

To Bless the Space Between Us, John O’Donohue

The Power of Starting Something Stupid, Richie  Norton

Week Ten:

Blood Done Sign My Name, Timothy B. Tyson

Strengthening the Spiritual Life, Nels F.S. Ferre

Last Days of Night, Graham Moore

Commonwealth, Ann Patchett

Thomas Merton, When the Trees Say Nothing, Edited by Kathleen Deignan

When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi

Visionary Women: Three Medieval Mystics, Rosemary Radford Ruether

Week Eleven:

Interrupting Silence, Walter Brueggemann

Struggling with Scripture, Walter Brueggemann, William C. Placher & Brian K. Blount

Sacred Sense, William P. Brown

Enfleshing Freedom, M. Shawn Copeland

Poetics of the Flesh, Mayra Rivera

That’s What She Said, Joanne Lipman

Week Twelve:

St. Augustine On Christian Teaching, R.P.H. Green