Stay Out of It

Stay out of it…

That was the advice from my mom the other night as we talked politics.

Just stay out of it. Don’t get involved, etc., etc., etc. Let the women march. Let others say what they want on social media. Let folks in the backwoods of Vermont fire off their guns in celebration of the recent inauguration.

Now my mom is not one to step aside from righting a wrong. Growing up she was always the one supporting me to write a letter to the school board if I, as a student, saw something wrong. Speak up and act to change things, rather than complain about things. That was her motto.

No, my mom doesn’t step aside from righting a wrong easily. So, her advice to me the other night I realized was one of motherly concern for her daughter. Her daughter whose first career was that of journalist and whose second incarnation in life is that of pastor.

Journalist plus pastor equals trouble at times for both callings are spurred on by a passion for truth telling and for a desire for advocating for the underdog.

“But mom, I can’t just stay out of it,” I said quietly. “To do so would be going against everything I am.”

More importantly, to stay out of things, to keep silent, to turn a blind eye, a deaf ear, whatever body part you want to use as a metaphor, to do any such thing is going against all Jesus is. Jesus whose inauguration speech in Luke’s gospel, echoing the words of the prophet Isaiah, outlined his policies: proclaim freedom for the prisoners, restore sight to the blind, set the oppressed free. There was no mention of building walls, but rather building bridges of love so that all could cross over each other’s “side” and finally understand one another and begin working together to make a better life for all.

Frederick Buechner, a writer and theologian who lives just up the windy mountain road from me here in Vermont, once said when Jesus told us to love our neighbors, he wasn’t telling us to love them in a “cozy, emotional” way. On the contrary, Jesus, said Buechner, is telling us to love our neighbors in the sense of being willing to work for their well-being even if it means sacrificing our well-being to that end.

Do I want more job opportunities for those I love here in rural America? Yes. Do I want relief from the burgeoning medical insurance my husband and I pay each month, a payment that is so high, provides so little in return and means we must dip into our savings to help pay for it? Yes. Do I want a better country, a better world, a better future? Yes, yes and yes. But not at the expense of others.

For if I forget there are indeed “others” also trying to live and build a good life, then what kind of person am I?

To stay out of what is happening nowadays is to be like all those in the crowds who followed Jesus but didn’t go all the way to the cross with him for fear of jeopardizing their comfortable lives by upsetting the powers to be or even worse, upsetting friends and loved ones.

I sit here in the home that I have cried to God to return to. God turned to me and heard my cry. And for that I will be forever grateful. I sit here in my 18th century home with the wide plank floors that slope and stare out the window at the snow covered Green Mountains of Vermont so thankful to be brought back to an area in which fills my heart and connects me ever more closely to the divine.

I am thankful for the opportunity to be a reporter once again and for the opportunities to continue being an accidental country pastor as well.

My heart is full, but heavy as well. It is concerned. I can’t pretend all is well with the world, just because all is well here on my little fledgling farm.

There is work to be done. There is good news to proclaim. And that good news is not going to be easy to proclaim.

Then again, it never was.

 

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The old stone well covered in snow is a beautiful sight here on the farm. But as the accidental country pastor reflects today’s news headlines, there is the realization that there is work to be done beyond the farm. 

Into the Deep End of Gladness

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

Frederick Buechner

Not sure why I wrote this quote in my journal. It wasn’t as if I’ve never heard it before. I had. Many times over. There I was, though, scribbling it down as if the words were brand-spanking new to ears I thought were deaf by now to such pithy quotes. The longer you’re in ministry the longer the list of these quotes seems to get.

I scribbled and reread it. Then I underlined “deep gladness” and read it some more. Next, I circled “deep hunger” and read it yet again. Then “God,” “call,” “meet.” The words were taking on an exciting new life. The speaker at the clergy conference I was attending continued as I gazed down at the fresh ink marks made on the soft gray lines of the bright white journal paper.

“If you don’t know where your deep gladness is—find it,” he commanded, emphasizing “find it” with enough power and punch to get his point across.

It was then my pen jumped at his command and began dancing across the page of my journal. Like the Bible story about the writing on the wall mysteriously appearing in the courts before King Belshazzar that mesmerized me as a child I, too, looked at the words before me wanting to know what they meant, for it was a message I didn’t quite understand or, better yet, didn’t trust to be true.

The mysterious words were, “I do know.”

Really? I do know where my deep gladness has the ability of meeting the world’s hunger?

I thought some more about the divine message that I could no longer ignore—or even erase from my journal. Darn. I knew I should have written this down in pencil! But the truth was let loose.

I did know where my deep gladness was. I knew, but some where and some how I had let life get in the way. How strange it is that the things we need to do in order to “live” are often the very things robbing us of deep gladness? If only we were more aware of that which makes the heart leap for joy would we then start seeing God’s kingdom becoming a beautiful reality in our midst.

This is especially true of our faith communities where, in sacred spaces and on holy ground, time and energy is spent trying to solve the problems of low attendance and little money. Focus on what is thought to give new life, though, actually thwarts the new life Jesus is offering. What is all too soon forgotten is revival begins first by reconnecting with one’s deep gladness. And this deep gladness is always accompanied with the gifts, talents, resources, energy, etc., needed to satiate a hungering world.

Yes, the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. Find that deep gladness now, for the world is indeed hungering.

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Deep gladness is found out in God’s big backyard where the accidental country pastor’s passion for rural ministry meets the hungering needs of small churches.

This Way of Life: A Little White Church Lenten Journey

Join Pastor Donna as she reflects on the transforming power of Lent and takes you on a 40-day journey of discovering God’s message of hope and renewal that she discovered in a little white church and in the hearts of the people who called that church “home.”

Day 10: Tending to Our Hardwired Souls

“How do you know Freddie?” Pete asked as I went about my early Sunday morning ritual of chasing away pre-preaching jitters by straightening hymnals, removing scrap paper from pews and setting up the lectern with sermon notes and announcement reminders.

Pete was the local Catholic who lived down the street from the little white church and his early Sunday morning visits became a standing date that I looked forward to. It was a time to catch up with what was happening in the little village, laugh and share our stories of faith (both high and low), all before the official worship hour would begin, with me putting on my clergy robe and him leaving to go up the road to be with his Catholic brothers and sisters.

“Who?” I asked as began setting up the props needed for that morning’s children message—trick candles that can’t be blown out and water on the side in case of fire. The kids of the little white church are going to love this!

“I don’t know a Freddie.”

“Yes you do. I read your sermon online and you mentioned him,” Pete insisted.

Now I was really confused. I thought back to the sermon and realized Pete was talking about Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian minister, theologian and writer of more than 30 books, one of which I had taken a quote from to illustrate a sermon point.

Shocked that Pete knew this pastor/writer that I had only encountered during my time studying at Princeton Seminary, it was now my turn to question him.

“Are you talking about Frederick Buechner? If so, how do you know him, and know him as ‘Freddie’?”

Turns out Pete’s dad was an electrician and Pete, who used to help his dad out, remembered doing a job at Frederick Buechner’s home which was just “up the road, heading out of the village towards Vermont, over the mountain.”

I was stunned with awe and excitement.

“Wait, the road heading out of New York State towards Vermont, then over the mountain? That one? That’s where I live!”

“Yep. You didn’t know Freddie’s your neighbor?”

I couldn’t believe that an author/pastor/theologian whose books were on my very shelves in the “oldest house in Rupert” as the locals referred to the house my husband and I bought, lived in the same neck of the woods I had come to live—and love.

“Wow, so you know Frederick as ‘Freddie’,” I uttered again. Life in a rural village never ceases to amaze.

Later that day as I sat on the porch of our little red Vermont home, still feeling this awe that Pete knew “Freddie”, I got to thinking about all the other creative people who called this part of the world home.

There was an author of several books about dogs, in which a movie was actually filmed years ago starring Jeff Bridges (Meet the Dogs of Bedlam Farm). He lived up the road on the outskirts of the village in which the little white church stood.

On the outskirts a bit farther up the road, heading north, was a noted chef from Manhattan who resided in my ultimate dream home—a period correct 1700’s home complete with a pond, goats and sheep.

Other neighbors surrounding me included an artisanal cheese maker, a rug creator, an angora yarn designer, a metalsmith, a glass designer, a painter and a freelance writer whom actually worked at the same New York City publishing company I worked for and who remembered me, as I had the office down the hall from her. She was now living this rural way of life as well.

All these creative types living in an area that to me, when I was interviewing with the little white church, was just some unknown speck on the map.

As I gazed out at the beauty that I had the privilege of calling my backyard, I suddenly realized it was no mistake all these creative people lived here. If anything it made complete sense to me, for it was here God’s creation as untouched by developers, no housing developments or malls marred the majestic landscape. Creation’s colors were still pure for there were no streetlights overpowering the stars’ lights and creation’s song could still be heard for there was no noisy traffic to contend with. It was here creative souls could find inspiration each and every day, for inspiration dawned right along with the sun’s rays each and every day.

I knew then it was no mistake God called me here for I remembered a piece of advice a pastor friend gave to me as I began discerning God’s call in my life.

Knowing that I was coming into ministry as a writer, she urged me to never forget that creative part of me. She told me how important it would be for me to always be mindful to tending my soul for it was God who had hardwired my soul to the things that would ultimately bring me joy—and life.

“Be aware of the things that awaken and inspire you, for the day-to-day business of the church will quickly make you forget the who you are that God made you to be.” Her advice is true for all, not just those called into ordained ministry.

No. It was no mistake for me to become an “accidental” country pastor. It was God leading me first out of suburbia and then out of the city to the place where God knew my soul would be forever nurtured and awakened to new inspirations dawning right before my very eyes each and every day.

God has hardwired all of our souls with that which gives us joy and a sense of fulfillment. The trick is for us to be aware of that hardwiring and be mindful of the need to nurture our souls, unlocking that joy and sense of fulfillment by being in the places where we can breathe a sigh of contentment and realize we are where God intended us to be.

For my sister, her joy is at the ocean. That’s why she will be moving out of suburban New Jersey to finally live the Floridian life she and her husband have always dreamed of. A friend who still lives in Manhattan does so—even though other friends, like me—have moved away, because that is where she finds her soul awakened to God. And yet another friend is at home in a housing development in the suburbs, enjoying the bliss of living her authentic life.

For me, the pastor, the writer, the wife, the daughter, the friend, the child of God…my soul finds rest in a place where the rising sun coming up over Vermont’s Green Mountains greets me with inspiration each day. (I wonder if Freddie gazes at the same sunrise as well and is inspired?)

I got up off the porch swing and went inside. I had a call to make.

“Hi Mom! Hi Dad! You’re never going to believe what Pete told me today? Guess who lives up the road from me…”

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The view of the rising sun as seen by Pastor Donna on top of the hill behind her little red house in Vermont…just down the road from Freddie. 

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Reflect on where it is in your life that soul comes alive with joy, with inspiration…and where it ultimately finds rest in God?