Virtual Pilgrim: The Mount of Temptation

Need a break? I invite you to take a 5-minute pilgrimage to Jericho!

This video will take you to the Mount of Temptation, a hill high above Jericho which is the home of an ancient monastery. The site is associated with the story of Jesus being tempted by the devil, which is told in  Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13.

This video was made by Eran Frenkel. Check out his videos about other sites in and around Jerusalem at

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In Celebration of Clergywomen

October 14, 2014 is my 24th Anniversary of Ordination to the Ministry of Word & Sacrament. What a privilege to live this life! For the past three years I haven’t been serving a church full time, and so I have a bit of distance from my vocation. More than ever, I love rubbing elbows with other clergywomen. I thought I’d list some of the reasons I’m grateful to still be counted among the ranks of clergywomen:

1. Clergywomen laugh at the humor in life. They are intimately involved with people’s lives — and life is funny. If you don’t think so, invite your favorite clergywoman over for a glass of wine and ask her if anything ridiculous happened in the past week.

2. Clergywomen don’t hide their eyes from the pathos in life. When they get the call, they get in the car and drive to the hospital, the nursing home, the morgue. They may cry but they also pray and bring a message of hope.

3. Clergywomen are beautiful in their robes and stoles. Have you seen the light in her eyes when a clergywoman is preaching the gospel and is totally un-self-conscious?

4. Clergywomen are down and dirty in their “I Love My Church” T-shirt. Also while hoisting that Habitat for Humanity paintbrush, or wearing a hairnet while making sandwiches to hand out to homeless people, or dripping in the dunk tank at the local street fair where they raised money for mission.

5. Clergywomen are leaders. They know how to put together an agenda and make decisions and delegate the next steps. (Please include that in the minutes and the church newsletter, thanks.)

6. Clergywomen are servants. Because Jesus.

7. Clergywomen are smart. They graduated from seminary. They earned a Master of Divinity degree. They passed ordination exams.

8. Clergywomen are foolish. They spent all that time and money and effort to get a degree that won’t buy them much earning power. Why? Because they felt called by God.

Clergywomen are a sisterhood and if you are lucky enough to be one, I don’t have to explain a word of this. But please pull up a chair, pour a glass of wine or cup of tea, and tell me what you’d add to my list!

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Screens in Church: Eight Tips for Using Visuals in Worship

Visual images are powerful. We are surrounded by images used to influence our behavior as consumers. What is the role of the church in using images? More than five years ago I wrote about the connection between computer icons and iconography. At that time I suggested using a stained glass of the day. It’s time for an update!

For the past two years I’ve been in many churches as a worshipper or guest speaker. I’ve seen carefully chosen images do many things well: create a mood, arouse curiosity about a subject, or help a worshipper enter into a biblical story by illustrating the climate, clothing, and topography of a place. Excellent!

I’ve also seen screens used to scroll church announcements or to project the words to songs. These uses have their place. But sometimes images are a bit like filler, a digital version of clip art. For instance, a picture of an offering plate or a generic cross on a hill with a sunset behind. These images remind me of the old-fashioned sort of kitchen wallpaper that features spatulas and rolling pins. Were we in danger of forgetting where we are? Just like clip art, these generic images feel like yesteryear and can actually diminish the worship experience by trivializing it.

I understand that choosing and using images can be yet another time-suck for people who already have too many things to do. Perhaps then the screens should stay dark. Don’t let them become a negative thing, for either the worship leader or the worshipper. Worship is just too important for that.


  1. Have an attitude of experimentation. Invite people to respond as to what is helpful and what is distracting.
  2. Choose a few images carefully. Less is more. Try using a single image as a contemplation point or the “stained glass of the day.”
  3. If possible, let the edges of your image extend beyond the borders of the screen. Keep in mind that color tends to wash out in large spaces like sanctuaries, so choose images that do not depend entirely on color for their impact.
  4. Mix it up. Use great artwork of past eras, stained glass images, icons from orthodox traditions, photos from late-breaking news stories, a child’s interpretation of a scripture story, a classic Sunday School image, a photo of natural beauty. Avoid the cliché.
  5. Try using a disturbing image as a jolt, but don’t leave it up for a long time. Just make a point and move on.
  6. Timing can be important, so become comfortable with the clicker, or work with the person who is changing the images.
  7. Limit the amount of text. Too much text can be a trap for preachers, who often think in words. Putting a sermon outline on the screen is not the same as using visuals in worship. When using text, try white letters on a black background and choose a font with a serif. Use the largest font possible and pay careful attention to the line breaks. Check for typos, which are distratcing.
  8. Experiment with using an “Inquiry Image” for children’s time. Show an evocative image that relates to the topic and ask the children what they wonder about. But don’t answer their wonderings. Just let the questions gather speed. It will engage the curiosity of the adults as well as the children.


  1. a photo of a dry, curling leaf as we considered a healing story, changing to a spring leaf as a closing image
  2. a series of paintings of homeless children, women, and men, as we considered the “least of these”
  3. an image of geese rising as we considered “the birds of the air”
  4. photos from my trip to the Mount of Transfiguration and Jesus’ baptismal site, as we considered those stories
  5. a DVD clip from “The Gospel of John” when the text was the raising of Lazarus
  6. images of women baking bread around the world on World Communion Day
  7. the tool of Google Maps to zoom from the globe, to the continent, to the country, to the county, to the rooftop of our church as we considered Acts, a kind of reversal of “from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria to the ends of the earth”
  8. a clip from “Doctor Who” as we considered in what way Jesus is a Time-Lord

I have not addressed the issue of copyright, which could be another blogpost.

What would you add to either of these lists?

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Pie & Pilgrimage & Potluck: October 18-19, Midland MI

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 1.53.07 PMMichiganders definitely know how to choose a location. The Saturday event will be held at a famous eatery: The Grand Traverse Pie Company. Click on the link if you dare.

On Sunday I’ll be preaching both services at Memorial Presbyterian Church and then speaking at a “Praying for Peace Potluck.”

Notice the food theme? I love the midwest.

If you’re in the area I invite you to stop by so we can meet in person!

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My First Sailing Adventure — Annapolis, MD

Gulls flap. Ospreys dive.

Tankers growl. Speedboats buzz. But

no motor = Quiet.

sailing Annapolis MD

All Aboard the Alibi!

sailing Annapolis MD

The Bay Bridge in the distance.

sailing annapolis MD

What’s that tanker doing?

sailing annapolis MD

Wouldn’t that red capsule make a fun ride?

sailing annapolis MD

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Praise or Blame, All the Same: Handling Criticism

A recent article in the NYT, Learning to Love Criticism, discusses a study of performance reviews, which shows that women are criticized more severely, and in more personal ways, than are men. In other words: It’s not our imagination!

I am familiar with the dynamic described. As a clergywoman, my work requires me to make decisions, talk frankly to people, and speak the truth. At the same time, I deal with people at vulnerable moments, and am heavily invested in communicating the love of God at all times. That is already a difficult dance to manage. Add the gender piece and now the dance floor is littered with holes that can grab your (figurative) high heels and pitch you to the floor.

Women who speak frankly are called strident. Women who are decisive are called aggressive. Women who exert their authority are called control freaks.

How can we do our job without paying a price? Perhaps the answer is: we can’t. So we must calculate the price and count it against the cost of not doing the work.

The NTY articles speaks about the “impossible tightrope” women must walk to do “substantive work.” The tightrope referred to is: how to be professional and make tough decisions while at the same time be seen as nice.

I am familiar with that tightrope. As an Associate Pastor in my first church, I was told that I too frequently used “I” language. This puzzled me. I had just spent a great deal of time and energy learning about family systems theory, and was committed to using healthy communication patterns. I thought that using “I” language was a good thing, not a problem. Even the committee members giving me the criticism were unable to further explain what the problem was, or how I should change to please them. One said: “They just think you should let the group make all the decisions, I guess.”

In that same group, we routinely ended our meetings with a time of open prayer. After everyone had prayed and the silence stretched for some moments, I would bring the prayer to a close. As soon as I said Amen, one particular person would invariably say “I was just going to pray but you ended!” So the next time I would wait longer. Still the person would not offer a prayer. So I would close and the person would protest. The pattern continued, with constantly lengthening periods of silence until it was ridiculous — a full two minutes of silence.

Finally, one of the older members pulled me aside and said: Don’t you see? It’s the perfect complaint. No matter how long you wait, it will never have been long enough. I am grateful for that wise elder, whose comment freed me from the need to try to please someone who was determined to not be pleased with me. A criticism that is a perpetual Gotcha! is not worth heeding.

I would like to think that this story is hopelessly outdated and that things have changed since the early 1990s. But I doubt it. Just as I was finishing this blogpost, my friend Carol Howard Merritt wrote about a similar dynamic. I know that I over-learned the practice of back-seating my own opinions. I became too enamored of a consensus model of leadership. I under-valued my own ability to help a group discern its next steps.

Now I am trying to learn new behaviors.

What we professional women must do is not easy. But we can feel empowered. Rather than waiting for the tightrope to disappear, we can change how we receive criticism. We can hear whatever bits are helpful, but not let any mean-spiritedness impair our ability to do the work. The work is what matters. The work is always what matters.

As Richard Carlson so memorably said: Praise or blame — is all the same.

Posted in Church: Leadership, Feminism/Gender/Sexuality | Tagged | 4 Comments

Healthy Boundaries for Clergy: Four Gems to Remember

To keep my standing as a minister current, I must attend a “Healthy Boundaries” training once every three years. We groan about how quickly three years rolls around, but the training is helpful. (It was sponsored by National Capital Presbytery and used material from FaithTrust Institute.)

Here are four gems I want to remember:

1. Boundaries preserve the sanctity of the self in relationship.

2. Why do people cross boundaries inappropriately? Because people are pleasure seeking creatures. And because we aren’t paying attention.

3. A teacher should never want something from a student.

4. The purpose of another person’s life is never to relieve my suffering.

Do you have to attend similar trainings? What are the gems you take away?

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Cognitive Anchors: What Weighs You Down?

So Howard Hughes has his own Mrs. Fields cookies. I'm impressed!

So Howard Hughes has his own Mrs. Fields cookies!

“Cognitive Anchors” are facts we know to be true — so that all incoming information must wrap around these facts. What are your Cognitive Anchors?

Last night I went to a “Dialogue of Discovery” at Janelia Farm, a research campus funded by Howard Hughes Medical Institute, to hear a practitioner of “curiosity-driven science.” (And isn’t that a great phrase?)

Joseph DeRisi spoke: “Unraveling Infectious Disease Mysteries Through Genomics.” As a speaker he did everything right: great visuals, interesting stories, and a touch of humor, all to make his very complex science approachable for the public. This link is to a related Ted Talk.

In the first portion of his talk, Dr. DeRisi explained how genome sequencing works, with lots of visuals. Basically, DNA is shattered, then the strands are manipulated and dyed with markers (A, C, G, T) so that a computer can match together the tiny pieces into long strands. We’re talking millions of pieces of DNA, which can now be done incredibly quickly — within 2 or 3 days. The progress in this field in the decade since the human genome was mapped is absolutely stunning. (The resulting drop in cost in this field is 50,000 fold!)

The second portion of his talk revolved around a case study of a 14 year old boy who was immune-compromised, and who became mysteriously and seriously ill. Dr. DeRisi told this story in a captivating way so that we never forgot the boy who was at the center of it, or how high the stakes were. Eventually this case was solved by the unusual step of sequencing his DNA, which revealed the problem: leptospirosis. It was an unexpected result, so that even though the clues were there (onset of conjunctivitis, progression to meningitis), this infection was never suspected. The doctors were focused on the boy’s immune suppression and therefore pursued treatment with steroids.

In this case, the belief in immunosuppression was a Cognitive Anchor. Wrapping all knowledge around that fact kept the doctors from correctly interpreting other facts as they appeared. On top of that, the disease waxed and waned so that the steroid treatment did sometimes appear to have efficacy. And why would someone expect a statistically unusual virus to be the culprit, rather than a known fact?

We have Cognitive Anchors in all areas of life, and while anchors can be terribly useful, they can also weigh us down.

As a pastor, it occurs to me that churches may actually be in the business of providing Cognitive Anchors for people. After all, isn’t doctrine/belief a way of giving someone an anchor or safe harbor when the sea of life is tumultuous? But note how quickly sound doctrine devolves into cliche.

When God closes a door He opens a window.

This saying is not biblical, and certainly is not nuanced enough to qualify as good theology. But this phrase (and similar others) is muttered in hospital waiting rooms or posted to Facebook walls. Like an anchor. Easy to hold onto. Seemingly solid. But terribly over-simplified.

So that’s one type of Cognitive Anchor that weighs us down in church.

As institutions, there are others. For instance, we church professionals think we know what people want/need/expect from church. Correspondingly, we act as if we know why people stay away — usually some combination of music style/ preaching quality/ program availability/ parking.

Accordingly, we try to up our “appeal” by changing the music, hiring a better preacher, or hosting Bible studies over beer in a restaurant with lots of parking.

But what if our Cognitive Anchors aren’t the essential fact? What if a virus from an outside source has invaded and messed with the body? (I’m extending the disease metaphor because the church is the Body of Christ.)

Off the top of my head, here are some examples of “outside” contamination:

~ the Catholic sexual abuse scandals (which affect Protestants also)

~ global wars tinged with a religious/faith component (which undermine the idea that belief is a positive force)

~ the evangelical church’s fixation on women’s bodies and the notion of sexual purity (which intersects unhelpfully with politics here in the U.S.)

~ a culture war over same-sex marriage (which makes the church seem irrelevant and, excuse me, is a concept which Jesus did not address)

~ and the leadership mess of the moment — currently Mars Hill/Mark Driscoll but maybe next the Osteens (charismatic leadership always generates crises)

This is not an exhaustive list! But all of the above can affect the health of the Body of Christ.

Last night’s lecture was mentally stimulating. It made me back up and ask myself to name my Cognitive Anchors. What are yours?

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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?

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