I just spent the last few days in the Grand Canyon. My first visit. Amazing.

I assumed that there would be Wi-Fi access in the lodge, and I’d be blogging throughout the trip. But I was wrong. Evidently, the good people at the National Park wanted us to connect with nature. Imagine that!

I did connect.

Now, I’m in the airport, waiting for our plane to board, while my daughter’s eating a scorpion lollipop.

More later….


Let’s talk about sex


I grew up in Florida, during a strange time, especially when I think about the attitudes toward sex. Culturally, the seventies were sexually open in our laid-back beach town. Actually as I remember the television shows (Love American Style, The Love Boat, Three’s Company), everybody seemed to be feeling quite liberated.

Although my parents weren’t swingers, my parents’ friends (from what I could glean) were sexually promiscuous. Of course, no one gossiped about the husband and wife who stayed completely monogamous, but I got an earful regarding the open marriages that these people could somehow juggle. They were all church-going, Bible-study-in-the-livingroom Christians.

I grew up in the Baptist Church, until I was about 13, I think. Then my parents started attending the huge nondenominational church. About the same time, I found out that our pastor (also a famous writer) had been kicked out of the Baptist church because of his multiple affairs. He had a house out in the country that he frequented with the women of the congregation. When the husbands found out about it, he was canned.

He repented and planted another church. It grew quickly and I’m pretty sure it was one of the first megachurches in the US. They were definitely using the overhead projector before anyone else. People would leave their homes and jobs, pick up everything, just so that they could move to the area and attend this congregation.

My parents didn’t stay there long. The church split, and they left with the parting few to begin another congregation in a neighboring town. And then, the new pastor got caught up in a sex scandal.

Meanwhile, as I went to high school, the eighties grew late, and we were beginning to hear more and more about AIDS. It was scary. I wasn’t having sex with anybody, but they also didn’t know much about the disease. Could it be transmitted by any bodily fluid? By tears? Could you wind up with AIDS by kissing someone?

When I attended Christian camps or concerts, they always scared us with horror stories that went like this: A young, innocent, virgin girl is taken out for a romantic evening by a dashing, handsome guy. They have sex. The next morning Romeo is gone, but he’s left a tiny velvet box and a card on the pillow. The girl opens the box to find a necklace, with a coffin charm. And when she opens the card, it has six simple words printed on it: “WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF AIDS.”

Now, I don’t care who you are, at the age of 15, that’s a scary story. Until, like, the 14th time you’ve heard it, and then you begin to wonder if it might be an urban legend (yeah, I’m very gullible that way).

So, between AIDS and abortion, the church began a high-pressure virginity campaign, which seemed to be targeted mainly at the girls. It was just beginning of a movement that would grow much stronger in the years to come, but the messages were still clear:

If a girl had sex, she was forever tainted and bad.
If a girl did not stay a virgin, she would never get married.
If a couple had sex before marriage, their relationship would be utterly doomed for the rest of their lives.

While our Youth Group leader decided that it was best for us to never date at all, in high school assemblies at the gym, they passed out cartoon books with condoms stapled to the back of them.

It was a very confusing time.

the photo’s of my hometown beach, right after a shuttle launch, by jethaden

Can we have a little break?


Fall’s coming, and my daughter’s getting interested in all the extra-curricular activities. We need to keep it down to one though. I know it’s good for the college apps if she appears to be well rounded, but she’s just in the first grade, so I’m hoping that Harvard will understand (I’m kidding…of course).

We were in a flurry of activities at the county fair. Each booth was wooing C to sign up. We narrowed it down to three options: sports, dance, or girl scouts. She chose scouts. So I went over to the scouting booth, and they had the hard sell. They had lots of activities, and cute older girls who kindly helped C make a craft.

I was ready to sign, until the moms said, “This is a volunteer organization. We’ll need your time.”

I felt like creeping slowly back from the display. Actually, I wanted run, flee as fast as I could. The sad fact was that I didn’t have any time. I had time for my daughter, yes. But I didn’t have time for the weekly meetings that they were describing. No way.

I tried to explain. “Um, well I work. It’s kind of a stressful job, and I often work in the evenings.”

They looked at me with a twinge of pity. “Ooh…you work….” They stopped short at saying, “I’m sorry,” but there was no mercy in their requirements. They were both stay-at-home moms. They informed me that I would probably be signing up for these meetings for the next twelve years.

I smiled, thanked them, took C’s hand, and left. “Let’s see if we can find something else,” I whispered in her ear.

I wish I could describe the panic and guilt that I felt at that moment. I juggle everything now, with relative ease, but if anyone tried to add one more plate to my spinning act, things just might get ugly. It’s not that I don’t want to do it. It’s not that I don’t care for or love my daughter more than anything. I just can’t do one more thing.

I wonder if that’s how the parents feel at our church. Since we’re located in the heart of D.C., we have a church where moms and dads both work. Most people need two salaries to pay the mortgage. Like many churches, we always have difficulty getting volunteers, especially for teaching Sunday school. When we ask older women in the church, they often smirk and say, “Oh no. I did my time. Now the young parents need to step up.”

But when they “did their time,” were they trying to manage a household and work a full-time job? Did the household heavily rely on their income, perhaps even more than their spouses’? Were husbands expected to participate, or did they get a pass because they were supporting the family?

Most of our moms work, and they’re often the HOH. They want to do things, and they do a superb job at rolling up their sleeves and taking on responsibility. But I’m not sure that our church programs are taking into account how panic-inducing and stressful it is for a parent to take on one more thing.

Is there a space in our congregations for a mom or dad who just wants to rest? Just for one hour a week, they might want to worship without being in charge of a program, or a mission, or a class. It probably won’t last forever, but just for now, can they have a little break? Is it possible for a parent to sit in a pew without the guilt from not being more involved?

I’m afraid if we don’t make this space, our moms and dads might run for the exit as fast as I ran away from the scout moms.

the photo’s entitled “Girl scouting is all about fun” by anyadoyzie

Stopping by the woods


I’m hiking in the Shenandoah Mountains, a couple hours southwest of the District. We have a lot of wonderful trails there, in the D.C. region, but it’s impossible to get away from the sound of the relentless traffic. If it’s not the cars, it’s the planes. If it’s not the planes, it’s the helicopters. The hum never ends. It can become a bit maddening after a while. As much as I love the city, I often need a break.

We went on a canal boat in Maryland recently, in a park just north of D.C. Two mules led the boat down the waterway. It took many backbreaking years to build a canal through all of the rock, and it was considered to be obsolete the day that it opened, because the railroad opened at the same time.

There was some resistance to the trains, because of the noise. The only sound the canal boat makes is the clopping of the mules and the parting of the gentle water. But, of course, the railway was so much faster, it quickly became the preferred method of transporting goods and people.

I’m far away from all the traffic now, meandering through the woods on the side of a mountain. It isn’t just the noise, the trail looked so different here. Lichen covers all the rocks and trunks, like liver spots. The cool air invites me to put on my sweatshirt for the occasion. Many brown leaves cover the ground, and my heart skips a beat when I see a few yellow and red ones.

Fall is on its way.

Growing up in Florida, I never had a sense of the seasons. Our seasons consisted of summer that was interrupted by the occasional cold front. So now I revel in all four of them, but I love fall the most. When all of the tree branches show off their brilliant leaves, until they become heavy with the display and let them go. Somehow it reminds me of death, or at least the process of passing away.

It’s not the kind of death that appallingly steals away a young life, making us want to shake our fists at God. I mean the kind of death that comes mercifully, at the right season, when a person is ready to pass on.

The decay is all around me. A fallen tree has become as soft as a sponge, as it crumbles to become a part of the earth’s goodness. After years in the pastorate, after sitting by the bedsides of so many people who were chronically ill, after witnessing the miracle of life’s great passing over and over again, that’s how I imagine death.

I’m not inspired by thoughts of pearly gates, crystal fountains, or streets of gold. That makes me feel like I’d be doomed to live in Donald Trump’s apartment for all eternity. I am more of a Psalm 23 person myself. I’d much rather spend eternity in green pastures, beside still waters, with my soul restored. As the tree crumbles to the earth, I cling to Meister Eckhart’s vision of death: that we will return to the love of God, that we will go back to that emanating force that created us.

And so I stop in the woods for a while, just to welcome this season of change and remember all of those who have gone before me.

photo by Steve Leggat



My husband turned to me last week and said, “It’s been twenty years.”

“What?” I asked.

“Since we met. We met twenty years ago.”

I thought back, added up the dates, and he was right. We met on a summer mission trip for teenagers, and then we went to Moody Bible Institute together. The Bible school fact never ceases to amaze people in my progressive congregation. I mentioned it to a member/Harvard professor who did not manage to hoist his jaw off the ground for the rest of the afternoon.

From the outside, conservative Bible schools may look like a bunch of students dressing the same way and believing the exact same things. You might think that everyone at Liberty University adamantly hangs off of Jerry Falwell’s words, but they don’t.

Bible schools are complicated systems. They have the true believers, but then there’s a stream of people who don’t quite fit: The ones who question everything and everyone, even though the environment doesn’t welcome an inquiring mind. There are a lot of gay and lesbians there, who are working out their salvation with fear and trembling. There are a broad array of International students who teach us about liberation theology. There are many people who are there because their parents forced them to attend.

B and I were among the questioning misfits. He was politically radical, and I stuck out because of my views on women. Our theology was shifting as well, as I was just getting interested in liberation theology and “neo-orthodoxy.” And then there were the little things, like B and his roommates always played their music too loud, until their neighbors would pound on the door, yelling at them.

Oh, and B also dressed outrageously. He always shopped at thrift stores, or dug his clothes out of the “missionary barrel” (think Goodwill castoffs, but at MBI, we gave everything to those poor missionaries).

He had conversations in the thrift stores that went like this:

Woman from the neighborhood: “Ooo! Look at what you found. Those are beautiful curtains!”

B: “Thanks. They’re actually pants. I’m gonna wear them tonight.”

I was never quite sure what he was going to show up in from day to day. Or what his hair would look like. We had a strict dress code at the college, and after B completed his first year, they had to add more rules, for B’s sake.

But things change and so do people, and even though I took him out for our six-month-dating anniversary once, now he’s much more likely to keep the calendar than I am. On most days, he wears khaki’s and collared shirts. I do less housework; he does more. Our political, philosophical, and theological positions have changed dramatically.

As a pastor, I’m rarely surprised when people come into my office and tell me that their long-term marriage is falling apart. People evolve. They’re often drastically different than they were on the day that they met. It’s a miracle when two people stay together after so many years.

And so, I’m celebrating our little miracle today. And I’m reminded that not everything has changed. After all, we spent a good amount of time yesterday belting out all of the words to Queen’s Greatest Hits.

Our daughter yelled from the back seat, “Mom and Dad, can you turn that down?”

“No!” we both answered.

photo uploaded by DigiPix