Thursday, April 29, 2010

Creation Care

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Speaking of the Environment, my church is having a Creation Care Sunday on May 2nd at 11am. I'm singing the finale song from The Color Purple, the musical. Here it is prefaced by Sophia's song, "Hell No" at the 2006 Tony Awards.

PLUS! David Garza and Chris Searles of Twang Twang Shock a Boom will also be playing during the service with Grant Hudson of the Infinite Partials accompanying them on bass. Chris Searles writes about this event here.

You should come!! First Baptist Church of Austin, TX 901 Trinity Street (9th and Trinity in downtown Austin). 11am. Sunday May 2nd, 2010.

Friday, April 23, 2010

My Friends Are Famous: B. Sterling

This is one of my favorite bands in Austin: The B. Sterling Band. And, he's a friend of mine! KVUE featured his music on one of their blurbs yesterday, so check it out here! (the video wouldn't repost so you have to go to the site to watch it). And here's the band's website in case you wanna check them out on a regular basis. Congrats B!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


The Glee cast performing all Madonna songs?! I was in heaven. Of course Sue Sylvester's was the best. But I also loved that they ended the episode with this...

"What you call insanity, I call inspiration."

Monday, April 19, 2010

Emerging Synchroblog

In response to a request for an Emerging Synchroblog that all bloggers involved in church life (whether conversants in the Emergant Village or not) write about the question, "What is Emerging in the Church?" here I go...

I think what is emerging in the church is inclusivity. I say that not because it is what I hope for (though I do), but I say that because finally the church and believers as a whole are generally moving towards a more inclusive theology of God.

Like Jonah before them, many Christians are digging in their heels and even swimming out to sea to avoid sharing a pew with a black man, a pulpit with a woman or communion bread with a homosexual, but it's happening.

While women were leaders and preachers in the early church, somewhere along we way, we as Christians lost our bearing. Even early abbesses were ordained in the 2nd century whereas now they're only blessed. But, in 1974, the church I'm in began ordaining women as deacons. In 2006, I became the 6th or 7th female they'd ordained to the ministry (with three more coming after me). A few months ago I was the "token woman's resume" in a Dallas church's search for a senior pastor. And while that royally pissed me off (I found out later they'd already chosen their candidate but needed to say they'd "looked at" a woman's resume), my current pastor and mentor reminded me that I could be the "token female" for future generations of women. He's right. And one day we'll see women priests in the Catholic church and we won't think twice about whether or not to hire a woman pastor for our church...

In 1948 Carlyle Marney began the difficult task of integrating the church i currently attend and also fighting 13 racist bills in the Texas Legislature. In 1963 my church passed a resolution about membership not being exclusive or determined by race. In 1967 they ordained their first "black" deacon. Now, color isn't a consideration when we invite people to be deacons or preach from our pulpit. (And maybe one day we'll have a black senior pastor in addition to a female senior pastor).

In 1976, the Episcopal church affirmed that gay men and women were children of God deserving acceptance and pastoral care. In 1992 an American Baptist church in Minnesota called a gay pastor to be their minister and a Southern Baptist church in North Carolina ordained a gay seminary student. Someday it will be okay to be a Christian who is gay and be a member of a congregation. Someday it will be okay to be a deacon who is gay, and someday it will be okay to be a pastor who is gay.

Each of these "issues" I've named (being a woman, being a minority, being gay) began by being labeled as a "sin" or "sub-human" or "not holy enough to matter" by a people group in the majority and in control. And each of these types of people, through the grace of God, has been seen for what they really are - a unique expression of the diversity of God - and their oppressors exposed in their own judgmental sin.

And Jonah went to Nineveh. And Nineveh was invited into covenant with God.

Inclusivism: God's all inclusive love. God's reckless adoration for all of humanity regardless of race or gender or sexual orientation or you fill in the blank. This is where God is leading us and this is how I think the church is slowing emerging. The church is emerging from a worldview of exclusive "God only loves people who look and act and think like me" to God loves everyone and maybe even has planned for me to learn and grow from these people that I once considered "other."

Thanks be to God...

(P.S. If you want to read what other people think is emerging in the Church, a full list of participants in this write-off can be found at One Hand Clapping.)

Monday, April 12, 2010

You Can't Take It With You

Written by Moss Hart and George Kaufman, directed by Ann Pittman, Trinity Street Players presents You Can't Take It With You April 15-18, 22-25. Thursday-Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:30. 901 Trinity St. Call 476-2625 to reserve your tickets or email Childcare available the 18th and 24th.

You Can’t Take It With You is a delightful play detailing the life of a not-so-normal American family in the 1930s, and the reaction of “everyman” to this unique family’s philosophy of living. A beautiful play written after the first world war and during the depression, in a time when America needed encouragement to think outside the box and laugh a little at life, You Can’t Take It With You asks its audience to consider lots of things we may take for granted. For example, why do we work jobs that give us indigestion? Why do we spend money on battleships? What if we chose a hobby (even one we aren’t particularly good at) and worked at it for eight years? Why don’t we visit zoos more often? What if we did what we loved, and loved who we wanted? What if we danced around our living rooms in a tutu and weren’t ashamed?

I had a pastor once who closed every worship service with “Love God, embrace beauty and live life to the fullest.” What if we lived unabashedly as the unique (and a little bit crazy) individuals God created us to be? What if we loved our families unconditionally and accepted our neighbors for who they really are?

“It’s amazing what some people go through and still keep kind of gay too,” Grandpa says. Yes, Grandpa, yes it is. Whether it’s a world war or a financial crisis or an arms race or a corrupt government or just frustration at spilling coffee all over your dress shirt on your way to work, life is hard. So we might as well just relax, live fully, and love one another deeply because, after all, “you can’t take it with you.”

Starring Linda Miller Raff, Doug Keenan, Kate Spencer, Jeremy Christopher, Joe Grady Moore III, Arleigh De Leon, Ginger Young, Jordan Dollar, Mary Bell, Jonathan Slocum, Mikey De Leon, Tommy Chiodo, Hector De Leon, Stephanie Morris, Gay Wucher, Paul Webster Feinstein, Charles and Cameron Venable and Roland Johnson as Grandpa!

Easter, Part Two... While Coming Awake

This poem arrived in my inbox sometime last week and when I read it this morning, I cried.

by Marjorie Kowalski Cole

The old cat sleeps
in the newly arrived sun. One more spring
has come his way
dropping a solar bath
on failing kidneys, old cat bones.
I check for the rise and fall of breath.

Once he stalked hares
across the yard, tracked down
chicken hearts with split-lentil eyes.
Fearless, disinterested, a poseur, a demideity.
He and the dog are strangers still
after years of eating side by side.

I remember times of wailing
into my couch, alone
and utterly baffled by life,
when suddenly a cat
would be sitting on my head.

Last week I pulled him snarling
from under a chair in Dr. Bacon's office,
held him while she examined his dull coat,
felt his ribs. Pressed where it hurt.
Eight pounds of fur and bone and mad as hell
but "He's certainly less anxious in your lap,"
she murmured, astonishing me.
I had no idea. Old cat, old friend,
have I reached some place inside,
added to your life
as you have to mine?

I cried not just because I love cats and two felines and a dog are the family I live with morning and night at 5406, the house with the too tall grass and the Easter Egg Lights that are still illuminated over the front window and the refrigerator that is still empty. But also because while I was coming awake Easter morning, someone else was falling asleep.

My beloved neighbor, Tommie Bedford, died on Easter in the hospital after a failed colon surgery. She suffered greatly, it's true. Not only did she battle diabetes, receiving dialysis three times a week for as long as I knew her, but she battled much emotional trauma too. She helped her husband grieve the loss of his two sisters and together they grieved the death of their young grandson, nephew and even their very own daughter, just a month and a half ago.

It surprised us all. We knew she was in pain, but like the old cat in the poem, she loved sitting on the front porch of her house next to mine, feeling the spring sun grace her with not too much heat yet while she watched her husband build a butterfly flower bed in their front yard in honor of their dead daughter.

The last time I saw her she was in workout clothes. After ringing the doorbell, I called to her through the door, "It's just me..."

"Come in," she replied. "If it were anyone else, I'd have had to put on clothes, but I don't care if you see me like this. Come on in."

I just needed a soda. The Bedfords always have Pepsi in their fridge, so I went straight there and found a cold one and returned to the living room. I was on my way into work (unrelenting) and needed an "upper" I explained to her. She laughed and I said goodbye, swooping out the door just as quickly as I'd swooped in.

Why didn't I ask her how she was feeling? I knew she'd not been well. But she looked so good, young almost, in her stretchy exercise pants, that I just ran off to my next activity.

Did I tell her I loved her? I can't remember.

Clarence told her, every day in the way he treated her. Chauffeuring her back and forth from the hospital, bringing home flowers to plant for her to look at, keeping the lights low so she could sleep when she wasn't feeling well. "Thank you," she would say to him every time they returned from wherever he had driven her. "Why do you say that?" he'd ask as they began the slow shuffle from the car to the house. "Because you don't have to do it," she'd reply.

And many husbands don't. They've forgotten the "in sickness and in health," "for better or for worse" part of the marriage covenant. Many don't. But Clarence did.

And now he's alone. The woman who hurt and ached so badly, loved living 52 years with him, and he with her. But now she's gone and Clarence is alone.

Alone. And Easter is gone. And we're both coming awake to a new reality, a new way of living.

Maybe I'll buy him a cat...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Whirlwind of Change

Texts: 2 Kings 2:1-14

What can I do with my obsession?
With the things I cannot see?
Is there madness in my being?
Is it the wind that moves the trees?
Sometimes you’re further than the moon
Sometimes you’re closer than my skin
And you surround me like a winter fog
You come and burn me with a kiss
And my heart burns for you
And my heart burns

I’m so filthy with my skin
I carry pride like a disease
You know I’m suffering Lord
And I’m longing to be close
You burn me deeper than I know
Cause I feel lonely without hope
And I feel desperate without vision
You wrap around me like a winter coat
You come and free me like a bird
And my heart burns for you
And my heart burns

Elisha was obsessed, and Elijah (his master) had only three trips left to make before the Lord would take him away. Gilgal, Jericho and the Jordan all needed some final work done before he left. Elijah had anointed Elisha, and had just a few ends to tie up before he knew God would call him home.

We don’t know why he didn’t want Elisha to accompany him. Perhaps he wanted to finish those last three visits by himself. Perhaps he needed time to think or reflect before he left the earth. Maybe he worried about his disciple Elisha, and thought the trips and the whirlwind would be too much for him in these last few days. Or maybe he was tired of always being followed around by an obsessive student. But whatever the reason, three times Elijah told Elisha, “No, don’t come with me,” and three times Elisha replied, “Not gonna happen; I will not leave you.”

It’s almost humorous reading the text, for in each scenario the same thing happens. “Don’t come with me Elisha.” “Too late,” Elisha replies. Elisha’s obsession about staying with Elijah reminds me a bit of Sam’s allegiance to Frodo, of Hermoine’s allegience to Harry, and of C3PO to R2D2.

In each town, while Elijah took care of business, the town prophets pulled Elisha aside. “Listen, you know God’s taking him away from you right?” they asked, (bewildered it seemed) at his persistence at staying with his master. “I know,” Elisha responded, “leave me alone.”

Did Elisha think that if the other prophets kept their mouths shut it wouldn’t happen? Did denial keep him from accepting the truth? Everyone knew! He had to know as well: the Lord would be taking Elijah from him.

But Elijah was his master, his mentor, his leader, his friend. And I don’t think Elisha wanted him to go.

Last week your minister, mentor and friend preached his last sermon as pastor of this church. This week, my next-door neighbor lost his wife to a diabetes (and I lost a friend). This weekend the nation of Poland lost many its beloved leaders.

And suddenly, change is upon us.

You know the symptoms well… The time has come for a move to a new location, a new job, a new school, or a nursing home and you’re not ready to go. You know the days, hours, even the minutes until the moving van comes, but you’re not ready to think about that yet. Or maybe a parent is sick enough for the doctors to speculate about the amount of time left, and you can’t handle the thought of tackling life without your father, the one person who has always been a constant in your life. Career changes, illness, break-ups, divorce, disease, all remind us of the fragility of our friendships, of the malleability of community in our lives. Life will never always be the same. People come and go whether or not we want them to; and sometimes, even if we see it coming, the pain seems more than we can handle. After all, life is unpredictable enough without having to worry about those we love leaving us!

Three times Elisha denies Elijah’s request, and follows him from town to town. As they near the Jordan on their third trip, Elijah, reminiscent of Moses, takes his mantle and strikes the ground. The water parts, and they cross to the other side. It is at this point that Elijah makes his final attempt to prepare Elisha for his departure. “What can I do for you before I go?” Elijah asks, and Elisha replies, “Let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” In other words, “Guarantee that I’ll be as good as you at what I do.” Elisha is afraid. This great leader is leaving him, and he lacks the confidence to finish the task. Elijah admittedly tells him that he has asked for quite a lot, but states that should Elisha actually see him being taken up in to heaven, then his request will be granted.

So the two continue walking and talking, and soon enough the long awaited event takes place. A chariot of fire and horses separates teacher and student. Now I don’t really know what a chariot of fire and horses looks like, but I imagine the whole event was rather startling and confusing for Elisha, not to mention Elijah who is swept off his feet in a whirlwind up into the sky. The scene is rather reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy in her house is lifted by the tornado. She looks out the window bewildered and sees a floating cow… the Wicked Witch of the West on her bicycle…and Elijah!

Elisha knows what is happening though and screams out, “Father, father!” And he watches, his eyes burning, straining to see his master go. But Elijah is gone, and Elisha moves into immediate mourning, ripping his clothes apart in anguish.

Why was Elisha so scared? So sad? He calls out, “father, father,” and then proceeds to state the obvious over and over, “The chariots of Israel and the horseman!...the chariots of Israel and the horseman…the chariots.” Was he afraid he would be unable to complete Elijah’s ministry? Was he depressed at loosing his mentor and friend? Perhaps both. In any case, Elisha picks up Elijah’s mantle that had fallen from him and returns to Jordan. He strikes the water, and with the existential question that we all ask when faced with loss Elisha cries out, “Where is God?”

When pain enters our lives, it’s natural to want to find a scapegoat to blame. So we hate our ex-husbands and blame our parents and demonize our bosses. But sometimes when our pain is so overwhelming, and our situation so confusing that we can pinpoint no one to vilify, we turn our anger on God. We turn God into our scapegoat. Why God, why? Where are you now, God? We move from questioning God to blaming God. Please don’t hear me incorrectly. I’m not saying that all anger in unjustified, but when it moves from anger to the dehumanizing of another person… from wrestling with God to blaming God… then we’ve created a scapegoat to ease our pain.

I’ve been there before. Have you? I’ve stood and watched the tornado of death and depression, loss and fatigue ravage my life and I too have screamed out, “Father, father! Why God why?” When I was in second grade, my best friend moved to another city. At the end of one summer filled with hide and go seek, dress-up clothes and little house on the prairie, she was gone; I cried, and resented the parents who took away my best friend. In seventh grade a large department store moved to the opposite end of the mall where my father owned a local clothing store. All the business traveled to the other end of the mall, and my dad lost the store. That was a loss that threatened a change in community, a change in my lifestyle and a change in my father. I cried and prayed and refused to shop at Dillard’s anymore. My senior year in college, I lost the man I was going to marry to another girl. That loss changed not only my plans for the future, but my idealistic perspective on love. I cried, and prayed, and sought counseling, and very easily found someone to hate. In 2005, I lost my pastor, mentor and friend when he was electrocuted while performing a baptism on a Sunday morning during church. And now, as a minister at First Baptist Church I counsel people all the time who ask, “where is God?” and often I wonder that myself.

“Where is God?” Elisha demanded. And then through his dust-clogged, tearful eyes, Elisha saw something miraculous. The waters began to part. Literally.

Was Elisha surprised? I don’t know. Encouraged? Probably. The waters split, and like Moses and Elijah before him, Elisha walked on dry land. The spirit of Elijah, or more accurately, the spirit of God had remained with Elisha, and he was able to cross over, both literally and figuratively, to the other side.

It’s interesting that Elisha finds God when the waters part: a “miracle” that his master had preformed just days before. Whereas you may remember that Elijah found God not through a whirlwind or an earthquake but rather through silence when earlier in the story he escaped to a cave to think, his student, Elisha, finds God in the parting of the water that allows him to cross on dry land. Unlike Elijah, Elisha didn’t need silence. His head was ringing from the sound of silence in the absence of his master and friend. Elisha needed to hear God in another way, and God provided.

But God didn’t change the situation. After all, where would Elisha be if Elijah had stayed in his life forever? Could the fear of losing his mentor be turned to confidence as God developed Elisha to be a great prophet himself? Although pain’s purpose is not to do good, could God not make good result despite of and through our pain? Loss is not always an ending – God never leaves us with our loss, but works through the loss in our lives. Some pain we will never understand. Period. But in other losses (often through hindsight), we find God there working, changing things for the better. Life is not okay all the time, but as Elisha found, even amidst loss, God is.

And I think perhaps God Is for us as well. God knows our needs, and is more than willing to meet us where we are. Sometimes God calls to us from silence as he did with Elijah, and sometimes through great events as Elisha discovered – but God always chooses to meet us wherever we are in life to help us cross to the other side.

No, God will not reverse death, or cure every cancer, or promise happily ever after for every couple married in the church. But he does promise to walk alongside us through every trial we face. And he offers his spirit to give us peace. And amidst pain and loneliness so excruciating and unexplainable, he heals our broken hearts.

The author of the hymn “It is Well” lost all his children in a terrible shipwreck, only his wife survived. And though many Christians lightly sing this tune, it is truly a hymn birthed out of great anguish. Knowing the author’s story gives new depth to the line, “when sorrow like sea billows roll.” But the author discovered that even in life’s most inexplicable pain, God is there, and makes it possible for wellness to exist within our broken souls.

You as a church, now enter together into a time of transition, a time of moving from the comfortable paradigm of what you’ve known church to be, to the unfamiliarity of listening to lots of different preachers and sitting in lots of meetings to discern what to do, and wondering about what will happen next to your community.

But lucky for us, God is not absent or blind. As Elisha discovered, God is present, pouring out grace and sending the Comforter into our lives. Truly this means we have a Good God on our side; a God engaged and willing to help us to cross over to the other side of the pain, the other side of uncertainty, the other side of loss. We must channel our passion, our fear, our excitement into picking up our lives, planting our feet on the ground, and walking past the confusing whirlwinds of change to discover that God will speak to us in a new way as we continue on this adventurous journey.

What can I do with my obsession?
With the things I cannot see?
Is there madness in me being?
Is it the wind that moves the trees?
Cause I feel lonely without hope
And I feel desperate without vision
You wrap around me like a winter coat
You come and free me like a bird
And my heart burns for you
And my heart burns…


Ann Pittman
April 11, 2010
Sanctuary Church, Austin, TX

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Easter... Welcome.

I stood up to give the following welcome on Easter morning at FBC Austin...

"It’s rainy. But we’re here. A perfect day for a book and a blanket, but we’re dressed to the nines in all colors and patterns and instead of any old rainy day book, we’ve chosen to read the Good book this morning.


Because 2000 years ago something miraculous happened. Something that would change the world entirely. Not for a moment, not for a day, not even for a generation… but forever. God became flesh and dwelt among us and cried and laughed and was crucified for loving us so much. The world can only handle so much love…

But apparently the grave can only handle so much love as well and three days later, God resurrected from the grave and offered hope that we too may all die to ourselves and live in the life that is Christ.

So welcome this morning. Welcome to First Baptist Church. The women have brought the good news, the men have gone running back to the tomb to see for themselves and the cowards have locked themselves in the upper rooms, afraid to believe that indeed, we can live in freedom.

So wherever you are, whoever you are, arise, the Light has come. The darkness does not triumph. And Christ is risen indeed!"

However, part way through the second paragraph as I scanned the congregation, I saw someone I haven't seen at church in over two years: Scott Walker.

Scott was one reason 2008 was such a challenging year. He was a junior in High School that spring with a promising future, but Scott tried to take his life and was almost successful. His mother found him and revived him and ever since then Scott has been in and out of neuro-hospitals receiving multiple treatments and undergoing many surgeries.

But there he was in church, on resurrection Sunday, sitting in his wheelchair with a huge gaping grin on his face. While his motor skills are limited, I could tell he recognized me - my voice, and I could tell he was loving being there. And I began to weep.

You should warn a girl if something as momentous as Scott Walker returning to church two laborious years after that Sunday afternoon when everything changed is going to happen. If a girl has to stand up and talk in front of 800 people, someone should warn her.

I suppose everyone thought I was crying about Jesus. But I wasn't. And yet, in a way I was. While Scott will never be the same, never be the Scott we knew, he is a new Scott now and God has surrounded his family with love and joy, despite their tragedy. Only God got them through that moment, those minutes, those few hours, those weeks, those months, those years, and only God will continue to.

After my welcome, I crossed back behind the organ pipes, took off my robe, and re-entered by the choir loft to lead the congregation in singing, Come Awake by David Crowder Band. This too, could not have been more perfect for Easter morning. Not only are the lyrics amazing, but that was the song we sang to comfort ourselves after Scott's tragedy. Over and over we sang it... "Come awake from sleep, arise. You were dead, become alive..." In some ways he did and in some ways he didn't.

But there he was on Easter, Resurrection Sunday and there we were singing Come Awake.

Come Awake.

For lunch I joined my FBC "parents" the Nethercuts, for an amazing meal at the UT Club. Hoity toity and delicious. Rich people sure know how to eat. And the company was good and it was nice to feel a part of a family.

Come Awake.

That afternoon, after the sun came out, I went to the park with my dog and laid on a blanket in the sun and read and read. It was amazing. Perfect weather where you don't feel hot but neither do you feel cold. Just warm and content all over.

Come Awake.

That evening, I went to a friends house for a BBQ and drank and drank and laughed and laughed and shouted, "He Is Risen!" in my slightly inebriated state.

Come Awake.

I was awake. And I was happy. What a perfect Easter. Beautiful, meaningful and rich. "I overindulged at church (on thankfulness) and at lunch (on food)!" I wrote for my facebook update.

Come Awake... Welcome, Easter. Welcome back.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

And He's Gone

I think the "Good" is ironic...

Jurgen Moltmann said that when Christ called out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" (Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?) God became both the oppressor and the oppressed. I'm still internalizing what this means... for Christianity, for Judaism, for faith, for freedom, for salvation, for God... and for Christ... Emmanuel, God With Us.

(this video was made for our Good Friday service last year by my co-worker Joe Bumbulis).