Reminding Myself

A problem that can be solved by a reasonable expenditure of money is not really a problem.

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Hospitality: What the Church Can Learn from Air Bnb

airbnbI’m a Presbyterian pastor who often talks about hospitality, sometimes in relation to one of my other passions, which is uncluttering. Last spring my husband and I took the practice of hospitality to a new level when we became Air Bnb hosts. Air Bnb is part of the sharing economy.

Many people are curious about the experience of hosting. Why would we want to open up our home to complete strangers? I’ll readily say that the propelling reason was to create an income stream. Writing is rewarding in many ways, but not financially. But like many things a person does for economic reasons, we discovered other benefits. Being hosts made us feel better about staying in a larger-than-we-need house with unused bedrooms. Here is our listing (there are two listings, one for each bedroom).

We welcomed our first guest last May — he stayed for a couple of weeks during a job transition. Since then many of our guests have been doctoral students, often from other countries. Only a few of our guests have been from the United States. I speculate that is due to our preoccupation with personal privacy. I have found it quite interesting to learn to navigate boundaries while there are strangers in the house. Usually it comes down to basic cleanliness, civility, and communication.

We have found some unexpected benefits to being an Air BnB Host (besides having become more regular about cleaning our bathrooms!).

For instance, we have discovered how quickly strangers can become friends. A chat at the kitchen table over a pot of tea is always pleasant. We have met guests who share our interests in many things: milkweed, the Chesapeake Bay, Buddhism, neuroscience, cats, new technology, the Shenandoah, the Civil War, organic cooking. Conversation has never lagged. At other times we have zero conversation with the guest, which is also fine.

We have the added pleasure of being a support to young people who are transitioning to the area. One young woman — upon hearing that I could squeeze her into a busy calendar — cried out: Why are you being so nice to me? I chuckled and said: Because once I was your age, relocating to a city where I didn’t know a soul. Upon reflection, I would say that this is the best part of being an Air Bnb host: paying hospitality forward. In a world that seems increasingly violent and full of tension, it feels good to add just a few drops of hospitality to the mix, and to ease someone’s burden.

We have also been guests a couple of times. When traveling we prefer Air BnB to “regular” B&Bs because they’re less costly, mainly because Air Bnb hosts don’t provide breakfast, only coffee and tea. A typical B&B provides a sumptuous breakfast and I don’t need the expense or calories every day. (Vacation model vs. Daily model)

As we’ve gone along, we’ve added a few rules. We have clarified the issue of friends staying overnight, for example. We ask overnight friends of guests to be registered, for security reasons. Recently I specified that no firearms are allowed in our home. I am fine with letting the rules evolve as we go. Also, I understand that there are regulatory/legal issues in some places; it is not my purpose to respond to those. I am only sharing my personal experience here.

If you read my blog, you know that I like to make comparisons to the church. Here are some Airbnb learnings that may have applications to how we do church:

~ Guests have different needs and it is possible to adjust to those if the host pays attention.

~ A clean, uncluttered environment says: I am ready for your arrival.

~ Effective hospitality requires rules, which evolve naturally from the situation and its needs.

~ Hospitality is often sweeter when it’s unexpected, meaning last-minute or after being caught in a surprise deluge. In fact, “crises” provide an opening to give and receive a gracious presence.

~ Sometimes hospitality is absolutely silent.

~ Hospitality is good for the host as well as the guest.

~ Most people like cats.

~ Perhaps most important, people have a very basic need to belong. And that need is not going away in our digitally connected world. Check out the video below. It introduces the new logo, which I agree has some unfortunate anatomical resonances. But that aside, what’s your reaction?

Posted in Church: Hospitality, Travel: Air BnB, Uncluttering | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Is Mark Driscoll my brother? Is Jesus giving permission to do same-sex weddings? And other thorny questions raised by Matthew 18

qtt-header-1024This week I have a post over at Question the Text, a resource for lectionary preachers. It wins the prize for the longest title I’ve ever used for a blogpost!

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Conduct a Funeral for a Sex Offender?

I’m one of the Matriarchs over at RevGalBlogPals, and today’s “Ask the Matriarch” question was especially complex:

An accused sex offender has asked if I will conduct his funeral. He is terminally ill. I want to minister to this person and the family, but I am struggling. Family members were among the victims (plural) and the accused may not live long enough to see his trial. The service would be at the funeral home and cemetery, not at a church building. I believe it will be a private funeral and internment.

I could use advice on what to do – - his arrest was front page news. Since i am a pastoral caregiver, I found out that I also could be subpoenaed to testify, and now I don’t want to talk with him AT ALL.

Help me sort this out?

Click over to RevGalBlogPals to see what the Matriarchs said. Feel free to leave a comment there, even if you’re not a member of the blogring. Or you can comment here.

Peace to you today!

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Big Event Edinburgh: The Pilgrim Way

Interested in coming to Scotland with me? We can be pilgrims together!

I’m thrilled to announce my first international speaking event.

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The above is a screen shot — here’s the link to more info.

If you’re a clergywoman, I hope you’ll consider it! I would love to see you there. Thanks to Martha Spong, the Director of the RevGalBlogPals for making all the arrangements. What a blessing the RevGals have been to so many of us!

Posted in Church: Leadership, Writing: Self-Promotion | Tagged , | 1 Comment

9 Things Pastors Can Do Besides Pray for Gaza

The conflict in Gaza occupies hearts and minds right now. I know you’re praying for peace. But how else can a faith leader respond? So often we feel forced to choose a side. Are you pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian? The topic always seems to boil down to this question which (reasonably enough) results in paralysis.

When I pitched my book (Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land) to Bill Eerdmans, Jr., he quipped: “Remember that Christians don’t like to read about the Holy Land. They only like to argue about it.


Yet, there is so much more for faith communities to do than argue. I continue to believe that one of the most valuable aspects of life together is the opportunity for vigorous study and discussion — whether in Sunday morning adult classes, evening forums, midweek “Supper & Study” events, or some other venue.

Please don’t be afraid of a spirited discussion on a touchy topic. Most folks desire a safe place to explore things that matter. Where else can we wrestle with current issues and relate them to our faith? If we begin the discussion with prayer and open hearts — and ground rules about listening carefully and speaking in love — the Spirit will bring us along. Here are some discussion/study suggestions, each of which takes a tiny bite from an enormously complex topic. You know which ones will best appeal to your folks:


1. Tackle the Hebrew Scriptures: Study Abraham and Sarah and the promise of land (Deuteronomy 1). Or revisit the story of Isaac and Ishmael (Genesis 16 and following). What did the text mean then? What does it mean now? Does it have anything to do with the current conflict? If so, exactly what?

2. Tackle the Christian Scriptures: Study what Paul says about faith as a devout Jew turned Jesus-follower. Or revisit a passage from Romans or Galatians. What did the text mean then? What does it mean now? How are Christians and Jews and Muslims related today?

3. Use a Resource: I trust the Thoughtful Christian resources, some of which are available as downloadable single-session studies. (Feel free to suggest others in a comment.)


4. Create a Timeline: Have folks create a timeline of significant events leading up to the current confrontation in Gaza. Create a safe space for people to add to their knowledge without feeling embarrassed by any areas of ignorance. Read 9 questions about the Israel-Palestine Conflict you were too embarrassed to ask.

5. Investigate the Crusades: Use Wikipedia to review the facts of the crusades, then watch Kingdom of Heaven together. Ask: What, if anything, connects the Crusades with current events in Gaza? Or are the only significant conflicts the ones between Jews and Muslims? Or don’t any of these religious conflicts have a thing to do with Gaza?

6. Learn about Zionism: How many hymns can you list that include the word Zion?Define Zionism from the point of view of Jews, Muslims, Christians. How does Zionism affect what goes on in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories? Is there such a thing as secular Zionism? Make a timeline of Zionism, it may be different than what you imagine it to be.


7. Invite a Speaker: Is there a Rabbi or Imam or Palestinian Christian you could invite to your church? Is there someone who has traveled extensively in the Mideast? Is a policy expert available? Is there a pilgrim among you? Each of these persons will have a unique lens.

8. Investigate what your Denomination is Doing: As a Presbyterian, we have a great deal of energy (i.e. controversy) about the Middle East currently. Our General Assembly voted to divest funds from three American corporations providing material support for Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestine. Here are FAQs.

9. Cultivate a Pilgrim Heart. While Israel is the scene of much violence, it’s also the Holy Land, a land pivotal to our faith. It helps to approach that land with a pilgrim heart, open to the sacred presence in all of its manifestations. I’m excited about a new video resource that can help us become pilgrims vicariously. It’s being launched via a free webinar Thursday, Aug 7, at 7:00 EST (4:00 PST). Come explore many holy sites at JerusalemExperience. The creator of the videos, Eran Frenkel, has approached me as a colleague in this venture, which I find enormously heartening in this time of conflict.

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Packing for Alaska: the One-Bag Approach

I like to keep things simple, including packing, but a cruise to Alaska raises inevitable complications. The weather is varied, and so are the activities, from very outdoorsy to very formal. I aspire to the freedom of one-bag travel. (Did you see this hilarious guest post on one-bag travel some time ago, I still love it!)

On this recent trip, my husband and I had a pretty typical Alaska itinerary:

~ a week on land (Fairbanks to Denali NP to Anchorage to Seward)

~ a week on a cruise boat (Seward to Glacier Bay to Haines to Juneau to Ketchikan to Vancouver)

Instead of showing you the clothes laid out on a bed, here they are on the scene, with a bit of commentary:

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESFOR DAILY ADVENTURES: a T-shirt layer (brought 4), a long-sleeve layer (brought 2), hiking pants, hiking shoes.

I loved these hiking pants. Lightweight, comfy, look like real pants. Bought them at the last moment and SO GLAD I did, I wore them nearly every day.

I also brought a pair of khaki capris that I wore a couple of times when it was warmer (Anchorage, Vancouver).

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESGLACIER WEAR: a warm layer, a rain-proof shell with a hood, ear band, fleece hat.

This may seem like a lot but we wore it all. I loved my purple zip front which layered well with my purple rain jacket



DINNERS: black knit pants, nicer tops (brought 3), sandals.

FORMAL NIGHTS: a little black dress, a wrap, jewelry (for Doug, a suit, dress shirt, tie, good shoes). Some people opt out of formal nights, which is perfectly reasonable. But we enjoyed them. Plus Doug re-wore his wedding suit. And my friends, this was our 30th Wedding Anniversary!

Denali National ParkALSO IMPORTANT: sunglasses and hat, a daypack (the foldable kind with strings), a passport pouch.

Binoculars, camera and recharger, Kindle and recharger.

Insect repellant, a sleep mask (it is never dark!) and Dramamine.

And yes, a purple bandana.


Kayaking at Tatoosh Islands, Ketchikan, AK

NITTY GRITTY: We did laundry at the hotel after our first week. I purchased a package of 3 drip-dry (non-cotton) underwear for each of us so we didn’t have to cart around dirty laundry, and that worked really well.

Also, the cruise people took our bag of formal wear and put it on the boat so we didn’t have to deal with it during the land portion of the trip. (Nice to know that when you’re packing.)

BROUGHT BUT DID NOT USE: a swimming suit, shorts.

ACQUIRED and WORE THERE: an Alaska cap! Alaska T-shirts! A couple extra pounds!

ONE LAST THING: SUNSCREEN: Why didn’t I know about this grownup product before? This stuff has zinc oxide in it, so it is very effective but the tint keeps it from looking white on your skin. It goes on like a lightweight foundation and blended easily into my  fair skin.

Have you been to Alaska? Feel free to leave a comment about your experience.

Are you going to Alaska? Lucky you! I hope this helps with your packing and I hope you have a fabulous time!

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Friends: Silver & Gold . . . & Bronzed?

Make new friends, keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.

Our daughter learned that little ditty in Brownies, and I’ll confess it came to mind on our trip to Alaska (and not just because of the gold-panning).

This was the first time my husband and I have traveled with someone other than family. Our companions were a writer friend who I’ve known since 2002, and her boyfriend. We were able to spend plenty of relaxed time together, often comparing experiences at day’s end, but giving each other lots of room in between.

The McKinley Explorer

All Aboard! The McKinley Explorer.

Here we are, ready to board the McKinley Explorer, which took us from Denali NP to Anchorage. We were lucky to have fabulous views of Denali along the way, a real treat since the mountain had been hiding behind its own weather system the day before, when we were actually in the park.

Besides sharing the trip with these friends, Doug and I visited some old friends whom we hadn’t seen in 25 years. This couple had been in the back of our mind as we planned the Alaska trip — they’ve lived in Juneau for 25 years.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThis is a very special woman — she introduced me and Doug. We owe her forever! She had started dating her husband about that same time and they married two weeks after we did. We had only seen each other once since then.

You can see we had lots to talk about, 25 years later. We couldn’t be quiet long enough to get a picture!


IMG_1357Doug was also able to connect with an old friend, someone he’s known since 7th grade and rarely sees. This connection was fun because it was so unexpected — a longer-than-anticipated layover at the Minneapolis airport had us hopping on the new (at least to us) transit system. We headed downtown, texting madly on the off-chance he could meet us. And he did.


Mary Tyler Moore

Who can turn the world on with her smile?

Bonus: This one is neither silver nor gold, maybe bronzed? I got to say howdy to the woman responsible for bringing me to Minneapolis, where so much of my life unfolded. If you didn’t watch sitcoms in the 1970s you might not recognize this woman. But she had everything to do (subconsciously) with my move to the city as a young single woman in 1980. Yes, MTM is an icon of feminism!

I don’t know when the city put up the statue, but I hadn’t seen it before and it was a blast to throw my hat up beside hers.

On top of all that, while in Alaska I had the chance to meet two “virtual” friends IRL. Each shares a particular passion with me — one is an “unclutterer” and the other is a “RevGalBlogPal.”

What friends are you meeting up with this summer? Old friends or new, or maybe both at once? Because, really, nothing stays the same, and everything is always new. Yet we are still the same people we used to be. And only an old friend can remind us of that.

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Book Review: John McPhee’s Classic Work About Alaska: “Coming Into the Country”

This book is really 3 pieces under 1 cover. The first piece describes a trip on a remote river in a beautiful section of Alaska, bordering the Yukon territory. The language is poetic and the focus is on the ecological beauty of the area. The second piece is more sociological, describing characters in Alaska’s history, and some of the trends of settlement. Interesting stuff. The third piece is the one the book is named for, a collection of stories about people who have “come into the country,” meaning, entered Alaska.

I read this book while I was in Alaska, and since returning. It was a wonderful partner to the trip and increased my appreciation of Alaska’s rich resources: natural beauty, history, and characters! McPhee manages to have a literary style without getting mired down, a real feat when there is not one plot thread for the reader to hang onto throughout.

I invite you to join me on Goodreads!

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Getting Wild About Alaska

My husband and I were packing for our long-awaited trip to Alaska. People had warned us to pack lots of layers so our bedroom was strewn with clothing, the detritus of indecision.

It occurred to me that I still needed to print our boarding passes. I went to my study and opened the airline email. I looked at the email, then looked again. There was a mistake. There was definitely a mistake. The flight information showed the wrong date. The wrong flipping date! Our flight left exactly ONE DAY LATER than I thought.

How was this possible? I had put this on my calendar six months ago! The land/cruise tour, the itinerary, the flights. Not only that! When I realized we could get to Fairbanks a few days early, I planned a bonus for my outdoorsy husband. I rented a remote cabin through Air BnB, a “dry cabin” only accessible by river, and an inflatable boat to get us there.

Here Honey: Wild Alaska!

Now that entire plan would have to be scrapped. I almost couldn’t breathe. At least I thought I wasn’t breathing until Doug came rushing into the room. Apparently I was shrieking.

And that, my friends, is how our 30th Wedding Anniversary celebration ended our marriage.

At least, it could have. If I were married to a different guy. Or if we hadn’t learned how to back up and see the big picture. When you’re in the middle of this kind of thing, it really CAN seem like the end of the world.

We tried to fix it, of course. We called Delta, who could have put us on an earlier plane for an additional $1,000. Each. (Um, not happening.)

Then we called the guy I rented the cabin from: “Would it be possible to do the trip as a single overnight instead of two overnights?”

“Sure,” he said.

So we did.

And yes, we will soon begin Year 31 together.

Chena River, North Pole, Alaska

The Chena River, North Pole, Alaska.

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