Thursday, September 30, 2010

My Friend, Mabel

I stood on holy ground today. It was not the ground I was expecting. I was expecting to be doing a regular pastoral visit, stopping into say 'hello' to my parishioner, Mabel, who has been growing weaker each day. I expected to sing a couple of hymns with her, laugh with her, and then pray with her after telling her how special she is. Instead, I was ushered into that thin space where heaven and earth collide.

I did sing, "Amazing Grace" to Mabel. I tried to make her smile by telling her how I had just come from Bible study and that Lois and Howard had asked about her. I told her how much I appreciated her and how much she meant to our church. I stroked her head, combing my fingers through her beautiful gray hair. I then invited her children - three of them were there - to come in and pray with us.

We gathered around the bed and praised God for Mabel. We thanked God for the things she had taught us and the joy she had brought into our lives. We thanked God for all 102 years of her life. We praised God for the ways she made us laugh by telling us that she is the one who had discovered President Obama. We also prayed for her children, that God would journey close to them in the days ahead. When we said, "amen," her son stayed in the room and assured her that the Lord was with her. Everyone then left, and I returned to say good-bye. It was then that Mabel entered the Church Triumphant, breathing her last breaths.

I stood on holy ground today. I stood in the presence of angels - a 102-year-old angel named Mabel and a great company of angels who came to welcome her to her eternal home. A colleague just reminded me that there are times when we do get to meet people who have been made perfect in this life. Mabel is one of these individuals.

I have written about her before in two different posts. I told her how special she was today and said "thank you," again. But, this is what I really wish I could have told her.

Dear Mabel:

Thank you for allowing me to be your pastor. You were chair of the Staff Parish Relations Committee when I first arrived at Mount Vernon Place, and I remember the first time I met you. You were so striking - tall, thin, dressed in a beautiful suit, walking with a classy cane, hair styled just right. You told me on that day, "You are about to have the best job in Washington." I believed you on that day. I was so excited about coming to Washington to be the pastor at Mount Vernon Place.

A couple months later, I arrived. I arrived with so much anticipation and excitement. I had a list of ideas to be implemented and could see how God was about to transform this church. It did not take long, however, for my joy to be robbed. The moment that I started to make some changes is the very moment the criticism started. Perhaps it preceded my arrival as people talked about my age and my gender. But, it got louder after my arrival. So many people questioned why I was here. So many people wanted nothing to do with the changes I was suggesting so that our church could grow again. But you, you kept looking me straight in the eye saying, "You have the best job in Washington. Mount Vernon Place is in the center of the city. Our city needs Mount Vernon Place. I believe in you. You are just what is needed. Keep up the good work." Everyone else seemed to be criticizing me. Your voice was one of a handful of voices that were filled with affirmation and support.

Mabel, I am not sure I would have ever made it through those first couple of years without your voice. It was your voice that I heard when I was ready to throw my hands in the air and apply for a different job. It was your voice that I heard when I was questioning why I was here. Your voice is a precious voice.

Our church started to grow. I remember the first time a group of young adults came to your home to sing Christmas carols to you. It was such a gift to bring the new members into your home - for you to see what God has done in this place. It was priceless to watch you look at the people who were joining your church - the church you gave so much of yourself to for some six decades. You told them what you told me, "Mount Vernon Place is needed. Washington needs our church in the center of the city."

Mabel, I came to your house often. I came most often because I believed that you and Holland needed a visit. You needed prayers. But, I also came because I needed your prayers. I needed to hear you tell me that I really could do what needed to be done here. I needed to hear you say again, "You know, you have the best job in Washington." I always loved walking into your living room, reaching over and kissing you in your chair, and then sharing time with you. And, I always left more excited about Mount Vernon Place than I was before. I'll treasure those visits for a lifetime.

I also remember Wednesday Bible studies with you. You were almost 100 and still taking a cab downtown each week in order to study the Bible. You got after people who left church early in order to go to a football game. You told us how much God loves us. You shined God's light so brightly and abundantly.

When Barack Obama was elected President you wrote in your Christmas letter how you were grateful to be alive at a time when all God's children could make their dreams come true. You were always fighting for what was right - always looking out for everyone - especially the people who were not yet noticed. Mabel, do you have any idea how incredible you are?

I promise to do whatever I can to continue to work as though I have the best job in Washington. You asked often about Wednesday nights, and I think you'd be so excited to know that Wednesday night suppers and studies are starting again in just a few weeks. We're reclaiming a tradition that meant so much to you. Like you, I believe that these evenings can be transformative for people who will come. Like you, I believe that one's relationship with their church can be the most significant relationship one has. I promise to be faithful to my call to Mount Vernon Place. Your church is growing again. We're attracting new people each week, and we will continue to seek to bring new people into the warmth of God's love and this community of faith.

We'll celebrate your life next week. My heart will be aching but my soul will be rejoicing. Your life - all 102 years of your life - is a rather wondrous life to celebrate. I'm so thankful to have been a part of it.

Mabel, thanks for all you taught me.
You're right, I really do have the best job in Washington.

I love you dearly. Rest in peace, my friend.

Your Pastor and friend,


Monday, September 20, 2010

A Call to Prayer

My commute into Washington is now done on public transportation. I board a bus in front of our house, and the bus takes me directly to the Pentagon where I board a Metro train. Twice each day, I see dozens of people in military uniforms. I pass hundreds of people running to catch a train or bus. I sometimes see protestors hoping for peace. Today, however, I saw a call to prayer.

I took the escalator to the top where my eyes were immediately captured by the image of two military police carrying huge assault rifles. The two men stood there examining each person as they came up the escalator. I then went down another escalator where I saw a third policeman with the same weapon watching as two very well dressed men questioned a Middle Eastern man.

It's not the Monday morning I was expecting. I hate weapons. I despise guns. Seeing these huge guns on my way to work on a Monday is not my idea of peace. I would have rather avoided the sight as the images ring fresh in my head. But I soon found the images calling me to prayer. I could not see the guns, the people carrying them, or the man being questioned without being led to pray. I found my prayers being offered to God rising like incense as I waited to board the train into the city.

Let there be peace on earth, God.
Let the day come when war will no longer be an option.
Let weapons be beat into plowshares and war be no more.
Let there be peace on earth, God.

Each day we are surrounded by things that trouble us. We see people and places that cause our hearts to weap. We are exposed to situations that cause us to ask what went wrong. What if we saw each troubling situation as a call to pray? The homeless person sleeping on a grate and the girl being prostitued on the corner of 11th and K can be a call to prayer. The man with a sign asking for money can be a call to prayer. The Pentagon can be a call to prayer. The Capitol can be a call to prayer.

Who or what is calling you to pray?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Second Look

I have seen more doctors in the last five weeks than I have seen in the last five years. I have experienced being a patient in a hospital for the first time. I have watched as doctors have come in and out, trying to figure out what is wrong with my body - what is causing my body to faint. After a weekend in the hospital and a battery of tests, I left with a prescription. Craig and I went to the local pharmacy where we had the prescription filled, and I purchased a small plastic box in which to organize my medication. I then started to research the drug I was ordered to take every twelve hours. I looked at the long line of possible side effects and realized that this was a serious medication. Two weeks into it, I found my body absolutely exhausted, unable to do many of the things I am accustomed to doing.

I then went for a second opinion. I made an appointment with a neurologist who came highly recommended and who is affiliated with one of our teaching hospitals. The doctor listened to my words detailing my experiences. He then read the hospital records and immediately said with an expressive tone in his voice, "I cannot believe they immediately slapped you on this medication." He proceeded to share how there is nothing conclusive in my story or my records to conclude that I am suffering from seizures. He ordered me off the medication immediately and quickly connected me with a cardiologist to continue to explore what is known about my heart.

I have spent the last four weeks thinking that I am prone to seizures. I have spent the last four weeks on a medication that was wrecking havoc with parts of my life. I have spent the last four weeks dealing with what it means to not be able to drive before being told that I should be able to drive very soon - as soon as we fully discern that it is my heart that is causing my fainting. I now wait for another appointment in ten days and then a table tilt test scheduled for the middle of October.

A second opinion revealed a very different reality. A second opinion changed almost everything. A second opinion restored pep in my step and increased my hope. I needed someone to look at me and my records a second time, and this second look has possibly changed my life.

As a pastor who is seeking to bring about change in our church, I spend many moments hoping that people turned away by the church will offer us a second look - a second chance.

Pastor Terry Jones captured the attention of the world last weekend as he threatened to burn copies of the Koran at his Florida church. He claimed to be representing Jesus Christ, one who proclaimed love, peace and forgiveness. But his words made me weep. I have never experienced Jesus as one who would call us to cast judgment on another religion. I have never experienced Jesus as one who would tell me to burn another's holy book. This is not the Jesus I have grown to love and follow. As I watched Pastor Jones on television, I prayed for the people all over the world watching his actions and listening to his words. I prayed that all people outside of the church would give the church a second chance - that somehow they would be led to offer the church a second look.

Each morning when I get off at the Gallery Place Metro stop, I take the escalator to the top of 7th and H Streets where I am greeted by a man shouting that "Jesus is Lord." He stands and faces the escalator, positioning himself in a spot where he believes his voice will carry, and seeks to make sure that each person riding the three escalators will hear that "Jesus is Lord." I have been tempted to stop and engage him in a conversation many mornings. I have not yet done this, but I keep thinking about his actions. I personally do not know anyone who has come to know Jesus by someone shouting at them that "Jesus is Lord." I am convinced that our actions speak louder than our words.

As I walk up 7th Street towards K, I pray each morning that all who hear the words of this man will somehow give the church a second look. I pray that people who hear this voice will not be led to believe that people who follow Christ have only one task - shouting at other people as they get off the Metro.

In Washington, I know more people who are not connected to a church than people who are connected to a church. I am blessed with incredible friends - some of whom love the church and others who cannot see why anyone would want anything to do with the church. I pastor in a community where there are thousands of unchurched and dechurched people living all around us. I hope and pray that they do not allow Pastor Terry and the man at the Metro to shape their opinions of the church. I pray that they will come inside our church and take a second look.

Who are we? We're young and old, lifelong church goers and people new to the church, people filled with faith and people struggling to believe, former Catholics and lifelong Methodists, gay and straight, housed and unhoused, liberal and conservative, employed and unemployed, government workers and students, single and married, parents and grandparents, and so many other things. What unites us is a sincere desire to figure out what it means to be faithful - not in the shadows of sanctuary stained glass but in the streets and neighborhoods of our city. We preach love and acceptance of all people no matter what. We proclaim that all are welcome and that it does not matter what you wear. We have taken a stand to radically include all people, especially people who have too often been turned away from the church. We're trying hard to be church - a different kind of church.

And, you're invited.

You're all invited.

Come inside, offer us a second look.