A New Reality

The Easter claim is not about resuscitation but about a new reality in the world that is unrestrained by the force of fear.  Walter Brueggemann

A new reality.

It’s why I gave up the security of a steady paycheck and a regular preaching gig every Sunday morning down in Maryland.

It’s why I gave up the very things we are taught to make a priority in our lives and go after—income, pension, health insurance—so that we can purchase the things the world uses to define (and so often judge) us by.

I gave it all up so that I could step into a new reality in which God had been nudging me to step into for quite some time. The nudge was gentle at first, but anyone who has brushed off God’s nudge knows God is not easily brushed off. The nudge grew stronger, leading me to sleepless nights and divine dissatisfaction with a life that looked to be a blessed one on the surface.

The nudge finally became a holy kick in the #$% that set me on an uncertain future back in Vermont where the only thing I am certain of is this: God is on the brink of doing some amazing work in a place my heart embraces.

Great work in a place where I see abundance of the things that matter to God—an abundance of caring hearts, stubborn hope and a desire to live a life not defined by what the world says is life.

Rather to live a life where a good payday is one in which your ears heard the songs of the birds and your body stood still long enough to enjoy their angelic concert.

God is up to something big.

Those were the words I said to my parents the other day when I called them to say “hi” after spending a morning with a lean checkbook that once again, somehow, paid for our daily bread.

God is up to something big, a new reality that isn’t about breathing life into old ways of doing and being. God is revealing a new way to live, I said, more for my own benefit than to put at ease a parent’s worry about their daughter’s future.

Live simply. Live with love. Live in peace. Live knowing that while there are forces against you (there are always forces against us), not to be afraid. Rather, embrace it all—the good, the bad, the ugly. For God is in it all.

The thing is, new realities like this come with a lot of uncertainty, a lot of questions and a lot of opposition.

My Lenten journey this year has been an interesting one. It began with a quiet Ash Wednesday in which, sitting alone at my centuries old farm table that serves as my writing desk, I poured out the burnt palm ashes into an ice cream bowl and thoughtfully and prayerfully let my finger swirl around and around.

As I felt the grittiness of the ash against the smoothness of my skin, my thoughts went to all the foreheads I have made the sign of the cross on with the ash. Some with many wrinkles of wisdom won not so easily; while others still smooth with beautiful ignorance we call blissful at times. I thought of the sacred moment when after the cross was made, I would step back and see the person’s face fill with awe and mystery as if this smudge had somehow reached deep into their heart. And perhaps it did.

As my finger swirled, I felt an ache that this would be the first year I would not have any foreheads to smudge. I looked down at my blackened finger and gently made the sign of a cross on the top of my hand.

I whispered to my ache, “Remember from dust we come, to dust we shall return.”

In the silence of that second, my ache whispered back, “I remember.”

And so, my journey so far has been one in remembering who I am and to know that when all is said and done nothing matters in our fleeting lives except finding the courage to live into the new reality God presents. A reality that is not about resuscitation, but one that is about authentic new life.

It’s a reality, though, that is not easy.

The other day I sat down on the path I was walking on and hung my head down low. I was not physically tired, but spiritually exhausted.

Although the sun was shining, all I could feel was darkness encroaching. I touched the top of my hand where weeks ago the self-imposed gritty smudged cross stared back at me, begging me to remember.

Gingerly, I traced the lines of the now phantom symbol of hope. Over and over, I made the sign of the cross where hope first had to conquer betrayal, opposition, hurt, anger and darkness. Lots of darkness.

“A new reality unrestrained by the force of fear” is what theologian Walter Brueggemann says the Easter promise is all about.

The sad truth is, though, fear will always try to restrain the new thing God is doing. For we humans are a fearful sorry lot. We are so afraid when we cannot control our own lives, even more so when we cannot seem to control others. We are fearful when someone dares to upset the apple cart by suggesting that we do something never done before.

The other day I was talking to a friend I had reconnected with now that I had moved back home. We got to talking about God realities and the fear that thwarts them. As we talked she became quiet and thoughtful. Hesitant at first to share what had come to her, she blurted out her concern.

“Donna, your complete abandonment to follow God and blind trust you show, no matter what, well, it threatens others and will threaten any powers to be that you challenge,” she said, recognizing that often many will talk about doing something new with God, but few will see it through. She then smiled and said, “But keep on pursuing that new reality, for many have wanted to do what you are doing, but we have been afraid.”

To the world, I am example of someone who is crazy. Perhaps even a threat. After all, I am willing to enter tough places, give up all, to see something beautiful that so few go the distance to see. I live to see God redeem brokenness and create newness from rubble.

Sometimes I, myself, question my sanity especially when I get to the part of the journey I am on now. The part where dark, mean clouds of a world who opposes this reality are gathering on my path.

But then, I trace the phantom cross, the symbol of hope, that was on my hand weeks ago. I trace and I reach. I reach deep down in my soul, mustering up the courage to keep on going, for I know how gritty ash feels on the skin and I remember.

There’s a beautiful reality waiting to burst forth where God has placed me to serve.

I remember I am dust.

I remember, God is God. AR-302109909.jpg

Second Sunday in Lent

Let us worship together on this the second Sunday in Lent as you join me at one of my favorite places to sit and reflect here at the Old Stone Well Farm.

Enjoy and share with friends, for truly when two or more gathered, God is in the midst doing amazing things.

Now is the time to be bold in our faith and to reach out to one another in prayer.

Happy Lenten Journeying!

Pastor Donna 

 

 

Town Meeting Day in Vermont

It’s Town Meeting day here in Vermont. That time in early March where residents in sleepy hamlets and frozen-in-time villages throw on their barn boots and plod through the mud to get to schools and village offices to speak for against proposed budgets and prospective incoming clerks and supervisors, etc.

I have always been intrigued with Town Meeting day. Why call it a meeting when no one is “meeting” to discuss proposals? Those meetings have taken place—formally and informally—mainly informally in country general stores and of course, in post offices.

Still, Vermonters are meeting.

As I ran errands today that took me on windy back roads, I smiled at the official “Vote for…” signs. Signs written in marker on poster board stapled to a wooden stick. No glossy professional signs like I would see in Maryland where I spent some much-needed time in exile, learning better how to listen and trust God.

Simple signs, but not simple issues.

This year’s Town Meeting day is one that has the potential of changing a way of life so many seek out and desire for their families.

This year’s vote is about school choice in rural communities…well, more like, taking away school choice and merging into larger districts to save money and resources because as “officials” say (not quite sure who these officials are or think they are) rural communities can’t keep going the way they are going with numbers and money shrinking.

I saw the signs today, also written with a black marker on poster board, telling folks to vote no to mergers.

I wonder when the polls close tonight at 10 p.m. what tomorrow will bring?

While I am not able to predict the future, I have a feeling tomorrow will bring a change that many do not want.

So, I sit here as the sun goes down on Town Meeting day in Vermont and think about change—good change and not so good change. Change that challenges us to grow. Change that leads us on. Change that invites us to see just how God can indeed make all things new—whether we like it or not.

God can take dashed dreams, failed attempts, deflated hope and make something wonderful out of it all.

What we must do is trust God in all of life’s changes. Trust God when all seems lost. Trust that whether we win or lose, God is still working in redeeming our lives and our communities.

The other day as I moonlighted at the local paper, I got to interview a woman in one of Vermont’s picturesque hamlets that has been dotted with “No to school merger” signs.imgres

She is planning a pie for breakfast event this weekend. It’s a fundraiser for the library she oversees. After I asked her about what kind of pies would be served and how she came up with this novel idea, she added some very important information that I didn’t think to ask.

She said she schedules this event after the Town Meeting to bring the community together after a contentious vote.

She said it is a reminder that no matter what side folks are on, we are still to be a neighbor to one another. And what better way to remember that and to have fun than while gathering over homemade pies for breakfast?

In a way that Vermont hamlet captures the hope and redemption that I witness in the breaking of the Eucharist bread.

When I as a pastor say the words to all that this is Christ’s body broken for them, take, eat, remember…I am inviting all to remember how Jesus came to show us a better way, a different way forward, a way of loving even when disagreements arise.

No, there won’t be any Eucharist bread being broken at that event. But those Vermonters will still be doing something holy when they break apart the flaky pie crusts with their forks.  For in the breaking of the pie crusts, they are in fact inviting the spirit of unity to fill the room. And, I believe, the Spirit of God will be with them in a powerful and healing way.

It’s Town Meeting day in Vermont. A reminder that change can be hard, but why fear?

We serve a God who changes not. God’s love is steadfast. So is God’s promises for bright hope for tomorrow.

I think I will have some pie for breakfast this Saturday.

 

 

 

Standing Up for My Rural Flock

I have friends who have been up in arms since Trump became president. They spend their time writing about the injustices and stupidity coming from our government. They spend time protesting and fighting for the rights of those Jesus calls in the Bible “the least of these.”

Most of these friends are fellow pastors who, like myself, know that, yes, we must fight for those being overlooked and treated unfairly. I see their passion and hear their anger and I pray.

Not for them to be victorious. I pray for justice for all to come…and for the scales to drop from all our eyes.

I am a country pastor. I came to this call quite accidentally. My Calvinist friends are quick to argue with me when I say this. They point out that nothing is accidental with God. True. Nothing is. But that still doesn’t mean we in our limited understanding of God’s crazy ways can comprehend all that God does. And so, I am an accidental country pastor.

I was called to a little white church years ago not realizing that this was more than a call to pastor a church. This was a call to start living again, to heal a broken heart and to allow God to reveal the who I really am.

I traded in my designer heels for a pair of good old barn boots. Mud season can be a real bitch in this part of the country. I admit, though, I have held on to my Kate Spade handbags. I am thinking that perhaps Miss Spade should make a line of rural handbags? Ones that complement the caked mud against black rubber…

Back to my point. I am a pastor serving rural America, an area in which prayed for someone like Trump to take office. An area where people feel his election is God’s grace being poured on the land—finally.

And I can see why they rejoice. I can see why they are turned off by clergy who they say are so “liberal” and don’t get it.

Maybe we clergy don’t truly get it?

I can see this because as I live and serve and pray for those who call little white churches, faded clapboard houses and sagging old red barns home, I hear their frustrations of being treated as “the least of these.” T

hey lament how they are overlooked by the decision makers in “the cities.” They don’t appreciate how those with higher education seem to talk down to those with a high school degree.

They are tired of the Roman Empire laughing at poor little Nazareth.

After all, can anything good come from Nazareth, the backwoods biblical village that Jesus hailed from?

We know the answer is yes. Something good did come from Nazareth.

The truth is this country is made up of many Nazarethes. And the people I have been called to shepherd have been tired for a very long time of being ignored, joked about and not treated fairly.

I moonlight as a reporter for a local paper. Just the other day in an editorial planning meeting, a colleague spoke about how a school in a village in the same county as which I serve God’s children has a big problem. They can’t get substitute teachers. No one wants to come.

You want me to go where? There? Where exactly is it? I think I heard there are rednecks in that area? My friend saw a few Confederate flags hanging from trailers. No, thank you. I don’t want to be there for the children who need a teacher.

It was the same for the little white church God called me to. Friends in Manhattan and north New Jersey where I then lived asked if I had this desire to preach to cows.

What’s up there for you? Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

Turns out there was something amazing in rural America for me. My relationship with God grew stronger as did my realization I had a passion to advocate for churches that no one seemed to know about or care about.

I thought about the school struggling to get substitutes. I thought about the churches struggling to get pastors who just weren’t just using them as a stepping stone to the next “bigger” church in their preaching career.

I thought back to a newspaper story I did in December where a man of a local American Legion explained why his colleagues were cutting ties with a larger national organization in their mission to collect Christmas toys for children. He said they collect so many toys but had to drive down to the “big city of Albany” to drop them off. And then, those in the city would decide what those in rural America needed.

“They don’t know our needs. We wanted our children to get what they deserve…more toys,” he said.

We want our children to get what they deserve…not just more toys. And so, the vote went to Trump because people were tired of not being heard. I’m not saying that this was the right vote or not. I’m just presenting the truth of what I see in my work as an accidental country pastor.

So, when I see protests and angry notes on Facebook from clergy friends about the unfairness of the actions coming out of Washington D.C. my heart cries. Yes, voices need to be heard. Definitely. We need to make sure the rights for all are protected and that new laws are made to help those who are in need. I’m not arguing against that.

But as pastors in the cities make their protest signs, I wish they would also pray for the little white churches in rural America who struggle to find shepherds. Pray for the schools who no one wants to teach in. Pray for the children who are in need, who seem to get overlooked. And I am not just talking about toys at Christmastime. Pray to understand why the country voted the way it did.

For the snide comment “can anything good come out of (insert a rural community)” has been heard for too long.

I know I am putting my heart out there and some might be angry with my words today. But I welcome all comments, even those who disagree with me. I just want to share and get a conversation going.

For when we don’t have the opportunity to talk to one another, we miss the opportunity to discern a new path that God is asking us to venture out on.

When we are prevented from talking to one another all because our differences are too great, then we thwart the work of the Spirit.

For our open and honest conversations, I believe, are indeed sacred offerings lifted to God.

Lenten Prayer for Today: Lord, I pray for all those who are feeling discarded and not heard. I pray for your Spirit to heal divisions. I pray for especially for all the churches, schools, businesses and household in rural areas who have felt rejected for far too long.

 

A picture of the little white church painted for me when I first came to rural America to serve God’s children. Life in the country may be different than the city, but we are all seeking the same thing: to be heard and loved, to know all of God’s children are worthy.

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The Journey Begins…

Lent begins with sooty smudges on our foreheads reminding us of who we really are, children in need of a savior.

Children who are indeed blessed beyond blessed in our brokenness. The smudged foreheads on Ash Wednesday remind us of who we really are and of the walk we have been called to walk in the season of Lent.

What a beautiful reminder.

What a beautiful walk.

This is a snippet from my sermon I am preparing for this Sunday, and as I prepare to invite those in the congregation to a deep and meaningful life-changing walk, I extend that invitation to you as well.

I know a thing or two about walks, journeys and wandering.

Last November, after three plus years of living away from the place God originally called me to serve–a little white church on the border of Upstate New York and Vermont–I returned home. I returned home with nothing more than faith and trust in God. No job, no health benefits, no “sure thing” for the future. I came home to an 18th century home which translates into “money pit.”

But home I came, because I know life is not fully experienced as God wants us to experience it until we take those leaps of faith. It’s so easy to say, “Well, I can’t do that because it just doesn’t make sense.”

When God calls us, it NEVER makes sense. In fact, rest assured that God always seems to lead us to do the impossible, to break open those closed doors so that those who are blinded by hate or jealousy or ignorance can see the light of Christ shining.

I was led a decade ago to do the impossible in a little rural church. The church I fondly refer to as “the little white church.” Its structure is really not little, if anything, its New England clapboard frame is quite large. But in terms of numbers gathered, it would rate as small.

But I walked the crazy walk into that pulpit and learned a beautiful lesson. While small in numbers that congregation had hearts that were/are huge. Quick to argue; quicker to love. Quick to doubt; quicker to fall on their knees to pray.  Quick to accept a former New York City fashion editor as their pastor; quicker to embrace that accidental country pastor as one of their own.

I am walking the hard walk again. I am journeying again. I am haplessly wandering again…or so it seems. I have made it back home, but now I need to go all the way in trusting God in how it is God wants me to serve him.

I am so glad the season of Lent is here. I am glad because it reminds that Jesus made a hard journey as well. Yet Jesus never stumbled, never faltered, never doubted each step he took–even when there were naysayers on the path and those who tried to make him stumble or worst yet, sought his life. He kept his eyes fixed straight ahead to the painful yet beautiful cross that awaited him. He kept knowing that the journey would indeed be worth it.

I believe too that the journey is worth it.

So journey with me. Let us pray together. Let us keep one another from stumbling or giving up.

If you have a prayer I can lift up for you, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. The prayers will be confidential and I will add them to my prayer time every morning when I walk up to the top of Sofie’s Hill here at the Old Stone Well Farm. And know that as I am sitting on a fallen tree overlooking the valley and gazing at Vermont’s Green Mountains in the distance, I will be praying for this broken world, for all the little white churches who are such amazing witnesses of faith in their communities, for God’s provision for those struggling and I will be praying for you.

You can send your requests to accidentalcountrypastor@gmail.com.

Blessings and peace,

Pastor Donna 

 

I just love this picture of the path on the rail trail here behind my little old house in Vermont. I thought it was the perfect Lenten journey picture to share with you. Notice how there seems to be a “opened door” at the end of the path. With God, my friends, there is always an opened door waiting for us.

 

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