Wednesday, November 10, 2010


At our Regional Assembly recently one of the ministers was wearing a clergy collar. Most Disciples clergy don't wear collars. In fact, one is generally hard put to determine which of the folks at any church event are ministers. I get the impression that California clergy men seem to think that a Hawaiian shirt and blue jeans is their uniform but in the case of clergy women it's really hard to tell. We don't usually even have any titles on our name tags. Titles just aren't a Disciples sort of thing.

Maybe this is because the Disciples founders' intention was to start a movement where the lay leaders were really more important to each congregation than the ordained folk. In the beginning our worship services were designed with the sermon coming after communion, at the very end of the service. That way if the traveling preacher didn't make it there wasn't an embarrassing pause in mid-service where the sermon should go. Everything else in our worship services up to and including presiding at the Table every Sunday is or can be done by lay folks. For some decades ministers in the Disciples tradition weren't set apart by collars or robes or even titles. The history books say that the first DOC minister who put "Reverend" on his door started quite the controversy. Even today many of us don't insist on a title although I must admit I enjoy being called Pastor. :-)

So when a Disciples minister makes a statement by wearing a collar to a regional event it is going to draw some attention. We had a little conversation about it. I admitted that when I first moved here I would often wear a collar when visiting a hospital, but that confused some of my church members so I stopped doing it. As a result I have occasionally been challenged by hospital security officers who ask me to prove I'm a pastor. When I mentioned that to my collared colleague he said the challenges were probably because I am a woman. Oh. Duh. Still, no big deal.

Yesterday I went to a luncheon in LA hosted by some copier companies and the National Church Purchasing Group. The man sitting next to me at lunch had a name tag that said Pastor James. Mine said Maria. I didn't really think much of it until the third introduction that went something like "Hello Maria. I'm Joe, sales rep for ABC company. Are you Delhaven's office administrator?" "Why no, Joe. I'm the pastor." "Oh. Really? A woman pastor? How nice."

OK. That's it. Tomorrow I'm pulling my clergy shirts out of the back of the closet, just in case I have any more church related sales events to attend. I can always keep a spare collar in my purse for emergency identification purposes. :-)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Ribbons for Life

On October 10th I stood in the pulpit and said "For those of you who are liturgically minded and are curious about the color of my stole today, I just want to let you know that as far as I am concerned, Pink is the appropriate liturgical color this month." I then went on to lift up all the football players who added pink to their uniforms that week, saying that I considered every one of them the Most Valuable Player.

It has become a matter of personal pride to add a splash of pink to my outfit every day during October. Oddly enough I haven't had any trouble finding a pink blouse or scarf or camisole to wear. I say oddly because for years, decades really, I didn't wear pink at all. Slowly pink has been making its way into my wardrobe. It started a few years ago when I walked in the Susan B Komen Race for the Cure and was given a "Warriors in Pink" scarf. (For some reason the LA event was held on a Saturday that year so I was able to participate.) And it was important to me to make that walk because that was the year both my niece and my associate minister were dealing with breast cancer. I thank God that both of them are survivors.

Like almost everyone these days I know a lot of women who have had to deal with the reality of breast cancer. Virtually every week I hear of a new woman who has been diagnosed with breast cancer or is waiting to hear what the pathologist says. I thank God that there are more and more survivors, that the medical community is getting better at saving lives through early detection and treatment.

The same goes for cervical cancer. People aren't nearly as aware of cervical cancer as they are of breast cancer. In fact, I am a cervical cancer survivor and only discovered it has its own ribbon when I started writing this blog post! Cervical cancer has, of course, received some publicity in the last few years because of the rather controversial HPV vaccine - controversial because it is designed to be given only to young women who have not yet become sexually active. But speaking as a survivor of cervical cancer, I can't tell you how happy I was to see that a vaccine had finally been developed. Prescribed and administered properly it will help reduce the numbers of women like me who develop cervical cancer because of HPV. As with breast cancer, more and more of us are living longer because of early detection through regular pap tests.

To all who have helped in any way to support women's health issues and cancer research, please know you are being lifted up daily in my prayers of gratitude.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Manicures and Ministry

For the last several months I've been looking for an affordable and enjoyable nail experience. I used to go to a lovely place that felt like a spa, with sounds of waterfalls and wind chimes in the air. No blaring TV, no dozen young women chattering loudly in a language I don't understand. Just occasional quiet conversation as the employees engage in pampering me. It was paradise, really. The atmosphere was so calming that I felt compelled to leave my silenced iPhone in my purse so I could focus on the experience. Ommm. . .

Sadly, I can no longer afford that place so I've been looking for a new place to go. Last week I went to a salon that I heard about while enjoying a spa gift I'd received for my birthday. When I mentioned who referred me to her shop the owner served me personally. I guess I should have realized I was in trouble when she filed my nails to all different lengths. She then cut my cuticles until they bled, applied bright red polish directly to the nail without any base coat, and refused to use the colors I requested for the design. Ever the optimist, I had my eyebrows waxed by another woman in the shop, who apologized when one brow ended up much shorter than the other. I won't be going back.

I did check for the licenses hanging on the wall when I walked in to the salon. Somehow I thought that having a license meant that I would be treated with some degree of expertise and professionalism. I don't know why I thought that. I watch in amazement as Mike Holmes of HGTV's Holmes on Homes tears apart the work of licensed but greedy or lazy electricians, plumbers, and other building professionals. The news is filled with stories about unethical builders, bankers, doctors, moving companies and so on ad nauseum. Even ministers. *Sigh*

When I was ordained to the ministry of Jesus Christ I received a certificate of ordination, a robe, some stoles and a Bible. I also received a suitable for framing copy of the Ministerial Code of Ethics. I did frame it and placed it right next to the door of my office so that I see it whenever I leave the room. This code of ethics is intended to help me live as God would have me live while serving as a healthy shepherd of the flock with which I have been entrusted. It states how I am expected to deal with my financial responsibilities as well as my physical and mental health, care for those who depend on me and maintain healthy boundaries. Sometimes I get up from my desk and walk over to read it again just for a reminder.

I realize that owning a copy of that Ministerial Code of Ethics can't make me an ethical person any more than owning a copy of the Greek Testament can make someone a Christian. But it can and does serve as a reminder of the vows I took before God and a congregation to serve and love with all my being. It reminds me that good intentions aren't enough. Even innocence of actual wrong-doing is not enough. If I would be a faithful servant and good shepherd, I must also avoid even the appearance of improper behavior. I must do my best to avoid situations that can be misconstrued or misinterpreted. Not just because I want to protect myself and my own reputation but because I am responsible for safeguarding the reputation of the Church.

Yes, I am referring to the current news story about accusations against a particular Christian minister in a long string of stories about well known ministers who have fallen short of what they preached. Here we see the media presenting yet another sensational story of a wolf in shepherd's clothing, a preacher who says "Do what I say, not what I do." Whether or not he is actually guilty of the charges being brought against him isn't that important to me. What is important to me is that even the accusation is bad for the Church as a whole. Even though I strongly disagree with much of what he preaches and stands for, I cannot rejoice that he is brought low for he is my brother in Christ. We are reminded repeatedly in the Gospels that we are to love all of our brothers and sisters, even caring for our [political and theological] enemies as the Samaritan cared for the man on the side of the road.

So I pray for those who are damaged by this situation and all the others like it. I pray for the accusers and the accused, the sheep and the shepherd. Most of all, I pray for the seekers who may turn away and wander in another direction because of what they are being led to believe about the Church and her servants.

BTW - Because the bright red polish started to chip off the very next day I re-did my nails myself even though I have had no professional training in the field. They are now all one length and the color has stayed put for a week. However, I'm still looking for that affordable and enjoyable nail experience.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11: A Day for Peace

It's 9/11 again. Every year as this day comes around the country takes a deep breath and remembers. As a nation we remember where we were and what we were doing, just like we have remembered where we were when Kennedy was shot and when the attack came on Pearl Harbor.

When we think of the Kennedy assassination we know that it was accomplished by one person (or maybe a group acting as part of a conspiracy). But we don't blame everyone who ever lived in Russia as the assassin did, or everyone who ever belonged to the communist party as the assassin did. True, at the time we really didn't trust Russia or Communists, but we didn't blame them all for the killing of our President. We put the blame for that act squarely on Lee Harvey Oswald (and maybe some co-conspirators).

The attack on Pearl Harbor, on the other hand, was immediately and rightly blamed on the government of Japan and called a deliberate act of war between nations. Sadly, we also blamed all Japanese and persons of Japanese descent, rounding them up and placing them in internment camps. Today we realize that was a bad thing, but at the time people were afraid and not thinking right. So we treated innocent American citizens as enemies of the State. To a slightly lesser degree, we are repeating that bad behavior toward our fellow Americans today.

In the wake of 9/11 it became absolutely clear that the attacks were the work of a particular group of terrorists who used a most radical and distorted version of Islam to justify their actions. We realized very quickly that there was no nation behind the terrorism, but that small groups of these radicals had sworn to destroy America and her allies. They chose targets that were exemplars of her power as a financial and military world leader. They didn't choose particularly Christian targets. Indeed, if Christianity had been the target they would have chosen one of the internationally famous mega-churches and killed many more people. Instead they chose targets filled with people of all races, nations, religions and ages - a cross section of America.

Somehow, however, that knowledge has become fuzzy. Somehow we have begun to think that Islam is the enemy, or that this particular view of Islam is mainstream. That makes no more sense than for the rest of the world to think that Pastor Terry Jones is a shining example of mainstream American and/or Christian thought. Terrorists are people who choose to use or threaten to use violence to bring attention to themselves or their cause. Osama bin Laden is a terrorist. In my opinion, so is Pastor Terry Jones.

Somehow our fear of that which is different has caused otherwise intelligent people to believe that Islam is dangerous, that the main thrust of the religion is the violent takeover of the world. Just yesterday an otherwise well informed person told me that Moslems are required to kill people if they can't convert them. Like so many other things people believe about Islam, this just is not true. Yes, the Qur'an can be used to justify just about any kind of behavior, but so can our Bible. The vast majority of Moslems in America and worldwide are ordinary peace-loving people trying to live the best they can. They are not terrorists. They are not trying to take over the world. Meanwhile my Moslem friends are more afraid of their neighbors today than they were right after 9/11.

Today, September 11, 2010, has been designated "Read the Qur'an Day" by many Christian leaders. I invite you to do that. If you don't have a copy you can find one online. If you have an iPhone, there's an app for that. Join one of the groups gathering to read the Qur'an today. Find a peace march or an interfaith gathering to be part of. At the very least, take some time today to pray for those you don't understand.

Peace - Shalom - Salaam

Saturday, July 31, 2010

An open letter to grocery baggers

When I started going to the grocery store with my mother as a child every store employed baggers. They were neither the newest employee in the store nor the stock clerk who had nothing to do. This was the job they were hired for and they took pride in how they bagged the groceries. A professional bagger would never smash your eggs or squash the tomatoes by putting heavy things on top of them. Nor would he or she ever fill one bag with all the heavy items. In one store I remember that my mother would choose which checkout line to get in based on who was bagging.

The day of the professional grocery bagger is long gone. There are so few stores that still bag groceries for the customer that I feel almost elitist when I shop at them. But the real reason I avoid them is because I am fairly fussy about getting my groceries home in good condition.

When I am at a store with baggers I do what I can to make the job easier for the bagger. When I unload my cart onto the conveyor belt at checkout I am careful to separate my groceries. The first thing I place on the belt are my cloth bags so the bagger doesn't even have to ask paper or plastic. All the heavy, wet, refrigerated things like frozen foods, meat and dairy go together so they can be bagged together. Likewise canned goods and other nonperishable foods, paper items, cleaning supplies, etc. Each category is placed on the belt with like items. I think this might indicate to the bagger that they should be bagged with similar items.

But more often than not I find fresh tomatoes under canned corn, bread flattened by a 10 pound bag of potatoes, toilet cleaner with the eggs, and both gallons of milk in one bag. Sometimes I catch the bagger in the act so they can fix any bagging problems. More often, however, I have to do some re-bagging when I get to the car and discover I can't lift the bags from the cart to the trunk. In addition to that, the baggers don't always notice the cloth bags or reach past them and have half my groceries bagged in plastic before either the checker or I notice what they are doing.

So, a few suggestions to all you grocery baggers out there.
1. Pay attention to what is in front of you. If there are cloth bags it is very likely the customer wants you to use them.

2. Be courteous. Place like items in bags together. Imagine how you would feel if you got home to find your new magazine soaked through by the condensation on the bag of frozen peas. Take care not to put squash-able and crack-able things like eggs, fresh fruit, bread and light bulbs under heavier things.

3. Be compassionate. Remember that not all of your customers are as young and strong as you are and even if you load the bags into the customer's car, the customer is still going to have to carry those bags into the house. They may even have to climb stairs with the groceries. Look at the customer and if he or she looks old to you then pretend that you are packing the bags for your great-grandmother to carry. (BTW, a gallon of milk weighs 10 pounds. It should probably be in a bag by itself.)

Believe it or not, your job is very important. The act of bagging their groceries is an act of service, a way in which you get to help your neighbor. Your courtesy and care for the customer could make all the difference in their day. You could be just the friendly, helpful encounter they need to make a hard day easier.