Saturday, December 5, 2015

What a pastor should NOT do.

Pastors should not throw a fit at the Christmas tree lot.

Picture the scene: fussy baby, sick mother, agreeable father, and a kind-hearted grandfather.  A sunny and warm Saturday in Mt. Pleasant, SC -- perfect day to get baby's first Christmas tree.  We tried a few nights ago, but because the baby had a meltdown and the all the trees were scandalously expensive, we decided to try again another day.  That day was today.  And this mother - this pastor - threw a fit in the Christmas tree lot.  Not a big fit.  But a fit nonetheless.  It went something like this:

Carmen standing next to the family car: "I want a tree, but $65 for a tree is outrageous."

Clark, cheerful and ever cognizant of our public roles as pastors: "Let's go home, regroup and try this another day."

Carmen: "I hate that Christmas trees are this expensive around here!  I keep thinking of all the poor folks who cannot have access to a simple Christmas tree! It doesn't seem fair that the poor cannot celebrate Christmas." (Yes, I said that.)

Clark, knowing that his wife isn't particularly rational at the moment: "The good news is that the profits here are going to charity."

(Loud sound 10 feet away- we turn and look and see that a squirrel has fallen from a tree and hit the pavement - doesn't move)

Carmen: "This is the worst!  All we are doing is killing animals all day!" (Clark and the grandfather have been fishing)

Clark, eager to redeem the moment: "I think he's just stunned!  Like when we played soccer and got the wind knocked out of us."

(enter cheerful church member)

Church member: "Everything okay?"

Carmen, forgetting that she is a pastor: "Why are Christmas trees so expensive around here?!?!"

... blah, blah.  The encounter went on.  I gathered myself, proceeded to run into multiple warm and lovely church members who were happily purchasing trees, and was mortified when we were given a generous discount when finally paying for a tree. Pastor for the win.

I am now in bed, the baby is wailing, and we have a tree in a bucket outside. I have a hunch Jesus is smirking.  Or because Jesus is definitely doing something supremely more important than smirking at my bad behavior, I plan to lay here and feel badly for 5 more minutes.  Then there will be grace.  And throat lozenges.  Throat lozenges for everyone.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Fear Not

The fog that permeates the mind of a new mother is real. Before the birth of my daughter three months ago, catching a flight required next to no energy.  Cruising through security in time to get a cup of coffee before boarding the plane was perhaps my greatest challenge.  My luggage and my life felt streamlined and organized.  The plight of new mothers juggling bags of bottles and diapers, doll-sized pajamas and blankets, were simply not on the radar.  But things have changed. Today I am lucky if I get to the airport having taken a shower in the last three days. The adage is true: parenting is all joy and no fun. 

Today as I sit in my office a million miles away from all that is manicured and fashionable, I am thinking of Valarie Kaur, a new mother like me and a fellow faith leader who was at the airport yesterday preparing to return home in time to celebrate her son’s 1st birthday.  As she was organizing the many trappings of motherhood she innocently pulled a tag off the bag carrying her breast pump.  This small gesture alarmed a nearby passenger who after scanning the lovely, brown-skinned woman, angrily asked what had prompted such a move.  More passengers got involved as did a gate agent who demanded she open the bag and prove that she was carrying a breast pump.  The air was thick with suspicion and fear and though no one uttered the word, terrorist filled the thoughts of those involved.

Fear is a powerful thing. I am a Presbyterian Minister and in our faith tradition we are celebrating the season of Advent. In these four weeks leading up to Christmas we are preparing our hearts by telling stories connected to the birth of Jesus. In many of these narratives found early in the Gospels, we find a divine command: do not fear.  Why is this command given over and over again? I believe it is because fear makes us the most miserable version of ourselves. Fear is like a disease that eats away at a person before being passed along to others, transforming them into shadows of their once-bright selves. Fear has the capacity to so transform hearts and minds, that new mothers become suspects. Bags carrying supplies that help feed small babies are transformed into a security threat. Long, dark hair accompanying a brown-skinned woman becomes a sign of danger.  In the United States today, fear is transforming our Muslim and Sikh brothers and sisters into enemies.  I have had fellow Christians ask me recently, voices full of apprehension, “Have you studied the Qur’an?  Do you know what is in there?”  I reply, “No.  I am a Christian.  I study the Bible.  Do you know what is in there?”

Now is the time for those of us who are not profiled as terrorists to raise our voices against foolish stereotypes that breed fear and mistrust. Now is the time for open conversation among followers of all faith traditions as we attempt to address social ills together.  And now is the time for this new mama to say to another new mama: I am sorry.  I am sorry for what happened to you yesterday as you prepared to celebrate the first birthday of your little boy. I promise I will do what I can to raise a daughter who will not fear your son, but embrace him, learn from him, and delight in this good world alongside him.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Hampton Park

Clark is off listening to some blue-grass music and I am luxuriating at home.  Today was sunny and beautiful- not a cloud in the sky.  The Low Country is finally thawing after a bizarrely cold and icy winter.  
This morning we visited "our park" (we refer to two parks as "our parks"- Charlestowne Landing and Hampton Park) and saw the first fat alligator of the season.  We don't have loads of freshwater in the area, but where there is freshwater, there are also gators.  They have become quite charming to me after a great deal of shouting and gnashing of teeth.  My Floridian likes all kinds of creatures-- snakes and alligators among them-- so I have had to grow more comfortable with both.  Living in Zambia, every human being I knew was terrified of crocodiles, but as it turns out the crocodile and the alligator are quite different.  Alligators are shy and generally uninterested in eating human beings, so I have made my peace.

Tonight I took a walk through Hampton Park at sunset.  It is Friday night, so I practically had the place to myself.  It was just me, the new statue of Denmark Vesey, throngs of birds, and this one guy I see once or twice a week when I walk the park.  Tall, narrow, and slightly hunched, this man always has an enormous staff draped across his shoulders where two small dogs are 'yoked' via long leather straps.  I heard him before I saw him.  He tends to sing unintelligible operatic words when he thinks he is alone.

I am glad Clark and I live downtown.  We live in a neighborhood called "Wagener Terrace", which is quite diverse- ethnically, socioeconomically.  My place of work is incredibly homogenous, so I find it refreshing to live in a place where folks don't necessarily look or sound like me.  Makes me miss the NYC subway system-- the great equalizer-- my favorite image of the kingdom of God on earth.

Here's wishing you a lovely spring weekend. May it feel like spring indeed.  

Friday, March 22, 2013


Meet the newest addition of our family.  Charleston (sometimes called Charlie).  He kills me with his cuteness.  When we first got him he could easily fit into the palm of one hand.  Now we cup two hands and he nestles snugly.

I freaking love Fridays.  An Arcade Fire station is playing on Pandora, coffee is brewing, I spent the last hour on reminding myself of the big world of which I am a part and forget nearly every day, and I get to hang out with Charlie and Clark today.

I think I'm going to be an artist today.  This luxury is free, so here's to it.

"Artists are people who are passionate enough to imagine things that do not yet exist." -Seona Reid, Glasgow School of Art

Cheers, friends.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

I listened to a wonderful interview on NPR this morning.

The inventor of the Six-Word Memoirs project (a guy from Smith Magazine) was talking about a clever little idea that has now become a popular medium for pithy storytelling:  people of all ages, shapes, and sizes are asked to submit their life-stories in 6 words- yes- just 6 short words.  It is amazing what you can pack into a short sentence. 

He waited forty-seven years for me.

Raised by crazies.  Keeping up tradition.

Finally happily married, gone too soon.

"Girlfriend's Pregnant" husband said to wife.

Born under fascism. Thrived in democracy.

Each student equals one gray hair.

Laundry never done, children always dressed.

I like this clever idea.  On this Valentine's Day, I'll write my own little love memoir for Clark. If you write your own, do share.

Exuberance outshines reticence: love blossoms, marries.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Home Sick

It is a rainy Tuesday here in Charleston and I am home today - a surprise sick day.  After 3 naps and an extensive perusal of Facebook, I am now out of ideas.  Cabin fever is upon me.  

Read a book, you say?  No thanks, I retort indignantly.  This is the 21st century.  People living in the 21st century don't READ books anymore.

Clark and I went to Savannah last weekend.  It is a terribly romantic place and I had to rein in my compliments upon our return because there is an ongoing, quiet rivalry between Savannah and Charleston.  It is like a genteel version of the Philly/Brooklyn rivalry.  Both claim superiority for various reasons (don't ask me to go into it- when natives tried to explain the rivalry my eyes glazed over and I stopped listening).  Savannah's historic district is built around 24 small public squares, parks crawling with Live Oaks, Azaleas, Magnolias, and the occasional fountain.  The parks have commemorative statues and historical signs that orient you to the area.  I noticed that not one sign I read describes the Civil War as the "War Between the States."  Not so in Charleston.  Someone explained this to me awhile ago- South Carolina seceded from the U.S. before the Civil War began, so many South Carolinians believe the war has been improperly named.  


I haven't been blogging much lately.  Lots of reasons for this.  One reason?  Being a pastor is terribly public and sometimes putting yourself "out there" is exhausting.  Another reason?  I am constantly talking in my job.  Talking, talking, talking. Blah, blah, blah.  And when you are talking, you cannot listen.  And let's be honest.  I need to do some serious listening these days.  First, I know next to NOTHING about the complexity of Southern culture (although I'm FEELING it more and more as I read Walker Percy and Flannery O'Connor and listen to mountain-hippie music that is full of banjos and mandolins and sweet sorrow).  I need to listen these days because there is just so much I don't get.  I don't get why grown men wear pants with tiny creatures stitched into the fabric.  I don't get why sunglasses have to be worn with something called croakies.  Crockies?  I don't get why we don't talk about race or racial inequity or why we don't recycle or why EVERYONE in this state is a Republican. 

But I suppose all of this is typical cultural shock/adaptation.  And while there are a million new things I don't understand, there is so much to love.  I love the warmth, the welcome, the generosity, the small-town feel of this place.  I love drinking sweet tea, spinning a yarn, rocking on the porch.  I love the food, the palm trees, the shrimp boats, the fishing, the accent of the good ol' boys and the impeccable manners. I love that I have now received three sweet-grass baskets and monogrammed containers to store my china.

And I also love (there is a fine line between love and bewilderment) that the South is like one giant small town.  I was in a kitchen store in Savannah, looked across the room, and thought, "Why do I know that girl?"  I turned away immediately when I figured it out.  While standing in a hair-net and very little else, that woman spray-tanned me before my wedding.  Vanity o Vanity.  And with that, I bid Kitchens on the Square farewell.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Happy One Month!

I was in a staff meeting today and "poof" I remembered that it is my one-month anniversary!  30 days of marital bliss.  Hooray for love-sweet-love!

Someone at work this week asked how I was enjoying married life so far.  "It is wonderful, of course" I replied. Smirking, this person said, "I'm sure he gets up and makes you breakfast in bed."

I frowned, "No.  But he makes us cappuccinos every morning."

"Seriously?"  Two other women popped out of their offices with eyebrows raised.  "Clark makes you a cappuccino every morning?"

I knew they were impressed.  Clark is a good one.

On another note, now that we are not wedding planning, we hardly know what to do with all our time. We've been listening to the Harry Potter books on CD.  I usually busy myself with something in the evening and Clark cooks. Periodically I look up to ask him if he feels like Clark-er-ella.  So far he does not.  But we have seriously got to find some hobbies.  Hobbies and friends.  That is next on the agenda.  Hobbies, friends, and serving somewhere besides church.  As a family of Presbyterian Ministers (100% clergy rate), we are becoming dangerously close to the church equivalent of cat-ladies.  Sometimes people can have too many cats.  Sometimes people can do too much church.


Wishing you a lovely Advent, delicious time with family and friends, and space to breathe this holiday season. xoxo