Pentecost: Crowd-sourcing a Question about the Crowd

The Pentecost story is so familiar that I picture it easily. But I’ve just come to realize that I’ve been wrong about a detail. I’m wondering if that detail matters.

Acts 2:1-21. The Pentecost story takes place on a feast day roughly ten days after Jesus ascended to heaven. As I’ve always pictured it, the disciples and other followers (maybe a hundred or so?) are assembled in a large room. They have just selected a new leader to replace the fallen Judas.

Suddenly a violent wind blows through the room, bringing with it flames of fire. The flames hover above the heads of all assembled. Each person is miraculously able to speak a language which was previously unknown. Overcome, they pour out onto the street, each speaking in this new language. A crowd gathers, amazed at the spectacle. Peter preaches eloquently, quoting the prophet Joel, and converts masses of people.

Boom! The church is born!

Only here’s what I noticed as I studied the text again. There’s no mention of the disciples leaving the room. Maybe I just assumed that happened. How else did the people from every nation hear them, and how did the crowd gather? But the text seems to suggest that the crowd gathers as if drawn to the great commotion coming from inside the room.

The KJV translates verse 6: Now when this was noised abroad the multitude came together. That phrase “noised abroad” may explain why I have an incorrect picture in my head. The NRSV translates verse 6: And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered. I looked up the Greek, but I am too rusty for it to do much good.

If there’s some fact you can supply, please do!

And help me think about what difference the detail might make. If the crowds came to the disciples, rather than the disciples dispersing into the crowd, does that change our hearing of the text?

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I’ve Always Wanted to Be Normal

RevGals coverI’m a woman and have spent a good portion of my career occupying pulpits. In some circles a preaching woman is seen as a problem. Now comes a book that normalizes my life: “There’s a Woman in the Pulpit.” What a gift! I’ve always wanted to feel normal.

There’s a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments & the Healing Power of Humor (SkyLight Paths Publishing).

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

My guess is that you know someone who would love to receive this book as a gift.

More than 50 clergywomen have written this anthology. I contributed an essay, which ended up first in the book. It leads off a section called “Fierce & Fabulous for Jesus.”

Reading the book, what strikes me is not only how diverse we clergywomen are, but also how classy! Whether we are choosing a high heel, parenting an autistic son who acts up while we preach, blessing one of the ships in Her Majesty’s fleet, bringing support to people under curfew in a conflict-ridden area, or belly dancing for a bit of exercise and relaxation, clergywomen know how to bring it on with grace and style.

It’s a privilege to live this clergy life and a sense of gratitude permeates the essays. Find out what it’s like to baptize an infant who has mere hours to live, or to impose ashes on a forehead. Answer the burning question: Do single clergywomen go on hot dates? Discover what it’s like to come out as a lesbian while serving a congregation.

Sometimes lighthearted and sometimes devastatingly close to the bone, the essays in this book will educate, inspire, and entertain you. But beware! The 68 essays are bite-sized. You may find yourself snacking on more than you meant to in a sitting.

There's a woman in the pulpit with "There's a Woman in the Pulpit." Only it's not her pulpit, she's only filling in for another clergywoman!

There’s a woman in the pulpit with “There’s a Woman in the Pulpit.”

The contributors are all RevGals. We come from 14 denominations, 4 continents, and are held together without a hierarchy or funding structure. We are simply stitched together the way woman know how to do, with love and connection and a heartfelt response to each other’s stories.

Disclosure: Along with the other contributors, I was given one copy as payment. This book project is a love offering for the RevGals and all proceeds go to support that ministry.

PS: I invite you to join our photo roundup. If you’re a woman in a pulpit, take a photo with the book and tweet it!   #RevGals #WomanInThePulpit.

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Two Kinds of Ministers

I submit that there are two kinds of ministers: ministers who’ve been hurt by the church, and ministers who haven’t been hurt by the church, yet.

I suppose you could apply this bifurcation to any group of persons. There are two kinds of spouses: those who have disappointed their mate, and those who haven’t, yet. There are two kinds of people: those who’ve died, and those who haven’t, yet.

Does this sound cynical? There is wisdom to be gained from meditating on failure and mortality, although we tend to avoid it.

(The current interest in post-apocalypticism is an interesting aside. We like to frame failure and mortality within a larger narrative of dystopia. I love how trilogies like “Hunger Games” and “Divergent” play with the notion of human agency. Can an individual operate within a small group to create change? Which circles us back to ministry questions.)

I’ve always been intrigued by the Vanitas paintings created by Dutch painters in the 16th and 17th centuries. These are a subcategory of still life paintings in which reminders of mortality are placed among the images of flowers and food. These reminders can be subtle or extreme, which is what makes finding them fun. Watches and hourglasses hint at the passing of time. Empty oyster shells and broken crusts are neutral reminders of a meal now past. Rotting fruit and dead game can be almost ghastly. And there are always lemons.

Contemplating still lifes makes a good hobby for a minister. Maybe it’s the modern equivalent of keeping a skull on your desk. (Thanks, Jerome.) Because Ecclesiastes was right. All things pass. Sometimes churches think that well-designed strategies can protect them or uphold them, or generate success. But there is more wisdom in knowing that we will fail. Inevitably. We will get it wrong until we get it right. Even then, all things will come to an end, often untimely so.

Maybe it’s best to learn to appreciate a bit of lemon. Maybe it’s good seasoning for a minister.

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Indiscriminate Tastes

Everyone likes to eat. What do you like to eat? On Sunday I’m preaching the Acts 10 text, about Peter’s vision, and so I’m pondering food choices. In the text, Peter, a law-abiding Jew, encounters a Roman named Cornelius and dreams of a sheet filled with food that he considers to be unclean. In the dream, God tells Peter: “Get up Peter, Kill and Eat.” Understandably, Peter recoils. The action recurs three times.

It strikes me that food is not just something to think about. Food is something to partake of. Recently I’ve experienced food a bit differently from normal. I just spent ten days traveling in the UK, and I did my share of eating! I began my travels in Ayr (west coast of Scotland), as a guest, sharing meals with my host family. Then I traveled to Edinburgh where I talked about pilgrimage based on my book, and stayed at a lovely hotel, like a tourist. Then off to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne (east coast of England), to practice being a pilgrim.

All along the way, I did something I don’t usually do: I took pictures of my meals. I kept thinking, “Doug would love this!” So as a way to share the experience with my husband later, I snapped pictures. Which part of me was trying to preserve those memories — the tourist me, or the pilgrim me?

Back home, I stumbled across an interesting article that suggests, among other things: The way of the tourist is to consume; the way of the pilgrim is to be consumed.* It’s a delightful play on words. And it is certainly true that a pilgrim is primarily concerned with letting the Divine consume her, and therefore is unconcerned with the food she consumes along the way. But the quote would be problematic if applied directly to food. To say that “the pilgrim is to be consumed” by food is to speak the language of eating disorders. Still, we all know that food is a powerful way that we connect with others. Sharing at a table with someone is a way of appreciating differences — and transcending them. When we eat their food, rather than insisting on our food, we cross a boundary and inhabit the other’s world more fully.

Fittingly enough, one of the sermons I heard in Scotland was based on this same Acts 10 text (my host follows the Narrative Lectionary). Rev. Liz Crumlish did a great job of having her congregation share with each other about ordinary food experiences before we dove into the text.

The take-away: Don’t let notions of ritual purity stand between you and the Other. There is no Other anymore. We are one in Christ. Work this out in the most basic way possible: at the table. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that a symbol of church hospitality is the potluck table, where we share each other’s dishes. In that spirit, check out some of the meals I consumed in Scotland and England.

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Lamb. At the Macdonald Holyrood Hotel.

 

A Northumbrian breakfast. The black disk is black pudding.

Northumbrian breakfast. The black disk is black pudding.

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HNT: Haggis (sheeps innards) Neeps (turnips) & Tattis (mashed potato). At a touristy bar on Royal Mile.

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A lobster straight out of the North Sea on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.

And single malt Scotch whisky.

And single malt Scotch whisky.

*At the asterisk, the author, Michael Sacasas, explains that he has borrowed this phrase from William Cavanaugh, which yes, led to further interesting Google searches.

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Pilgrim Hospitality

I have just returned from a pilgrimage to the UK where I was on the receiving end of so much hospitality! I led a 3-day conference called The Pilgrim Way for 18 clergywomen in Edinburgh, Scotland. The woman who originally envisioned this international event, and organized it, was Julie Woods. She took care of “all the things.” How inspiring to see her idea give birth to an event, years in the making! Here Julie and I are, in front of the priory ruins on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, which was a follow-on from the conference.

Rev. Julie Woods, right.

Rev. Julie Woods (right) Rev. Ruth Everhart (left) on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.

To back up a bit, I arrived in Scotland a few days early in order to get over jet lag, and was hosted by Liz Crumlish at her home in Ayr, on the western coast. Liz was the first Church of Scotland clergywoman to attend a RevGal Big Event cruise almost a decade ago, and it was her enthusiasm that persuaded more Scottish clergywomen to cross the pond year by year. I chose a picture of Liz laughing because she is always laughing.

Rev. Liz Crumlish, right.

Rev. Liz Crumlish (right) and Rev. Ruth Everhart (left) in Edinburgh, at the Macdonald Holyrood Hotel.

After the conference in Edinburgh, 11 of us clergywomen participated in an optional follow-on, and actually practiced pilgrimage. We went to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, off the eastern coast of Great Britain, by train and taxi. You have to watch the tides just right to get to the island, as the causeway is covered twice each day. Rachel Poolman was our pilgrim guide. Rachel is the Warden of St. Cuthbert’s Centre on the island. Check out the Facebook page, and notice that St. Cuthbert’s has a bothy where pilgrims can stay. You know you’ve always wanted to stay in a pilgrim bothy.

Rev. Rachel Poolman, right.

Rev. Rachel Poolman (left) and Rev. Ruth Everhart (right).

Throughout the conference, the spirit of hospitality flowed freely (as did the wine, after hours, and a wee bit of gin!). To me, as speaker, the women gave copious gifts of attention, plus laughter in the right places. To each other, the women gave the gift of sharing stories, and hearing the tears, or questions, or laughter, that rested just behind those stories.

Below is a photo of the whole group as the conference began (don’t we all look fresh?), and below that is a pheeto — a feet photo — which is a RevGal tradition. When the RevGal blogring was formed in 2005, many of us blogged anonymously, so a pheeto was a safe way to preserve the memory of a gathering.

This was a historic event, the first international RevGals conference, and I am just so happy to have played a part in it. Thank you, pilgrims!

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BEE, Big Event Edinburgh 2015, RevGals

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The traditional “pheeto” after a spiral labyrinth walk.

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Do You Love a Graduating Seminarian?

If you’re looking for a special gift for a graduating seminarian, how about this one: a portable communion set handcrafted from beautiful wood.

Imagine using a gorgeous item like this to bring the sacrament to the bedside of someone hospitalized, or homebound. The carrier is worthy of its purpose. It communicates to everyone involved that they are indeed partaking of a sacred moment.

Portable communion set, with chalice.

Portable communion set, with chalice.

 

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Portable communion set, closed.

 

Portable communion set, with individual cups.

Portable communion set, with individual cups.

There are a number of options available, depending on type of cup. Each communion set comes with its own glassware. Since each communion set is handmade, and the craftswoman uses different types of woods, each box is one-of-a-kind. I predict that it will be difficult to choose from the options, but what fun!

I cannot recommend this work highly enough!

For more information, check out Sharon Newton’s website.

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Superhost! What if Guests Reviewed a Church Like an AirBnb

airbnb-superhostHospitality is important to me. I grew up in a home where it was common to have guests for dinner, even though we were a family of seven without a formal dining room. Simply getting everyone around the table could be a squeeze, but I don’t remember a person ever complaining. We were happy to sit down to my mother’s good cooking and the clink of bowls passing. I grew up knowing that to host an unexpected guest you simply added water to the soup, or corn muffins to the menu. I thought everyone hosted other people in this way.

Pastoring a church is essentially the practice of hospitality. People are looking for something when they come to church, even if they don’t know exactly what they’re looking for. And that’s great. That’s perfect! Nobody has to have anything figured out before they walk in the door of a church. They just need to be ready to receive. The people who are already there should spring up to (metaphorically) squeeze the extra chair at the table and stir up a batch of corn muffins, to provide whatever’s needed.

Christians believe that Jesus wants us to be hospitable. The theme is undeniable in scripture. Jesus was frequently a guest and once, pivotally, a host. He was the guest at many tables such as that of Mary and Martha, and other random “sinners” like us. He was the host at a particular table, the one that defies our comprehension, where he served the meal the church has named after him, “The Lord’s Supper.”

Plus there are the stories Jesus told, which so frequently feature dinner parties and banquets. The Jesus we meet in scripture liked to sit at a table where the bowls clinked as they passed, and the wineglasses were refilled.

Done right, the practice of ministry instills in us simple habits of hospitality: providing enough bulletins and hymnals for all, assuring the presence of empty pews and parking spaces, and generating a culture that’s ready to greet and chat and offer a cup of coffee, if it’s welcome. Churches thrive on hospitality, but it occurs to me that these practices are not rewarded very visibly, or assessed very honestly.

I can’t help but contrast that to my experience as an AirBnb host. For the second year I have been awarded the title: Superhost! People have asked me why we do it. Why do we have strangers stay with us? Is it even a bit dangerous? (To answer, I’ve blogged about AirBnb before.)

One answer is that it’s a way to earn a little extra money when you live in an area like DC, with high housing costs. But besides the income, I like the idea of making the world just a little more hospitable. I especially enjoy having people stay with us more than a night or two. If they’re here for a while, they’re probably in some sort of job transition. We can make that process just a bit easier. Our house is not especially large or beautiful, but it is a place of welcome. Would you like a cup of tea? A conversation? Or simply the promise of coffee in the morning as you face yet another day?

Let’s face it, these guests could choose to stay in a rent-by-the-week place instead, somewhere with a private entrance and their own TV to drown out the rest of the world. What do we offer that’s beyond those conveniences?

Increasingly I think it’s this: Simple human connection. As our interest in our cell phones reveals, we all crave connection.

I will ask a guest: “How was your day?” And I will listen to the answer. Because a day isn’t done until you’ve told someone about it. No guest has to talk, but if they want to, I as host will listen. This is not a hardship for me.

At the heart of the AirBnb process is a system of references. This is how total strangers can feel comfortable, rather than vulnerable. The references assure both host and guest of something quite basic: that we are just regular people who have/need a bed. There is no further agenda. This is a safe place. All shall be well.

I wish churches had the safeguard of a reference system. Hospitable churches could be designated “Superhosts.” Guests who visit could post a reference, an honest one. Potential guests could read and think: I could try this place. Or maybe: Nope! Not this one!

The post-Easter season is a good time for churches to honestly assess how they did with the basics of hospitality. How would their Easter guests fill out a review? Not just about parking spaces, but about the atmosphere as they walked through the door? Was the culture in that place a culture of hospitality?

As disciples we know that hospitality is basic to the life of faith. How might we lift up that value and quantify it for today’s connection-craving world? I envision some sort of “AirChurch” system of verifiability, with a focus on hospitality and a way to quantify success or failure through actual experience.

I also toy with a related idea: What if church members could be AirBnb hosts and funnel the money directly to their churches? Wouldn’t that be a beautiful way to tithe and support a congregation? I think Jesus would approve. In this day when churches need income streams, the idea seems timely.

If you’re interested in these ideas, email me or leave a comment. I’d love to pursue this.

Oh, and I meant to ask: Would you like coffee in the morning? Or are you a tea drinker?

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Hermitage Hildegard

During Holy Week my husband and I spent a few days with the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, staying in a hermitage at their monastery, and visiting their ministries in inner-city Erie. Our hermitage was named Hildegard. I took a picture of the signpost the day we arrived:

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And I snapped another picture the morning we left:

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Lent Pilgrimage, Home

This is the final installment of a Lent devotional series based on my book about pilgrimage. To begin at the beginning, click on Ash Wednesday. Welcome, Pilgrim!

Easter Sunday

I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. ~Revelation 21:2

Scripture calls Jerusalem home, but it has always seemed far from my home. This pilgrimage has been too brief. The places we’ve visited don’t really feel like home, not yet. But I have been changed here, in this place God chose as home. No wonder that as I prepare to leave, a powerful homecoming energy pulls at me to stay. It is illogical. This Holy Land is a place filled with great conflict, yet it shimmers with a vision of hope. Someday I will return. Someday we will all return to the new Jerusalem!

On this Easter morning may you glimpse a vision of what we cannot see but only believe.

Prayer: O Creator, welcome me into your heaven.

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Lent Pilgrimage, Golgotha

Holy Saturday

May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. ~Galatians 6:14

Slide24We are in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over the place where Jesus died. We have the opportunity to stoop over, crawl beneath an altar, and reach through a hole and touch the bedrock of Golgotha. I know it is just a rock. I know it is grimy from other people’s fingers. But when I touch it, I am pierced with the knowledge that a sinless Jesus suffered for the love of us pilgrims with our grimy hands and besmirched hearts.

How might you place yourself at the foot of the cross this Holy Saturday?

Prayer: Jesus, Lamb of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

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