Tuesday, May 24, 2016

We Are Not What We Own

Oh, the joys of city living!” This morning two different people said these words as they passed me cleaning out the broken glass of my car. The backseat window had been broken. Nothing of importance was stolen, but a mess was made and left for me to clean up. 

The line they gave was one I have internalized since moving to San Francisco. We live in a city, which means sometimes we learn lessons we would rather do without.

I’ve come to expect a broken window every now and then. Still, it puts me in a bad mood. Anger rises within me as I wonder if someone really thought I had something they needed or if it was just a fun game. Break the window and run. 

It’s moments like these, when the city teaches me a lesson about my possessions: 

I am not my possessions. 
My possessions should not have power over me.
When my possessions are attacked or harmed, I am not attacked or harmed. 

Of course it sucks to have to clean up someone else’s mess. 
It sucks to pay for a new window because insurance won’t cover it.
It sucks to have to go through the hassle of finding a time when you can meet the window repairman in a parking lot and have them fix your car. 

But it’s just a nuisance. My day goes on. I go on without that window. 

The lesson city living teaches me is that we are not what we own. 

Our identity and value is not based off of the size of our home or the price of our car. In fact, we choose to keep an older car just for this reason. Sometimes it gets broken into or bumped  and the less attached we are to it, the better. 

Sometimes I find myself fantasizing about a 3 bedroom house in a suburb. With a garage AND ample parking on the street. I dream about land that I would own and do with as I please. I think about what I would do with more space to spread out and decorate. 

And someday I may enjoy all these things.

But for now, I catch myself and I give thanks that I don’t have those things. I give thanks for our 1 bedroom apartment that only takes an hour to fully clean. I give thanks for a limited space that forces us to limit the number of things that we own. It simplifies our life. It helps us make priorities and live into our values of simple living and generosity toward others. Having neighbors on the other sides of our walls reminds us to be thoughtful in how we live and how it affects others. 

Even the break ins, broken glass from our car on the street, reminds me that some of our neighbors are in such desperate need that their best resort is to break in and steal from others.

On good days, I take a few minutes and pray for them. I pray for me, too, that I would be grateful for what I have and generous in sharing with others. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Claiming the Collar

On Friday night, I put on my clerical collar and headed out on to the damp streets of San Francisco to participate in Night Ministry.  We walked by a long line of people waiting for the Prince show, in and out of bars, and along the homeless-lined streets offering our presence and prayer.

I've walked with SF Night Ministry once before and it is a powerful experience. There are night ministers out walking every night of the year and they've created quite a community. Several people living on the streets know Pastors Lyle and Tom by name and are quick to share prayer concerns with them. I was surprised this particular night by how many interactions we had with people out drinking on a Friday night and the respect they showed for clergy in collars.

Then, on Saturday, I went to see the movie Spotlight. Spotlight is an award-winning drama exposing the sexual molestation of minors by priests in the Catholic Church. It takes place in Boston in the early 2000s and sheds light on a horrific systemic problem. My blood was boiling at several points during the movie when time and time again survivors shared how they had been preyed upon by someone that they trusted. Even worse, how they were both emotionally and spiritually harmed by the abuse. As their trust for clergy shattered, so too, did their trust in God.

As I walked out of the theatre, our musician Jason asked me jokingly, "You gonna quit?" As in, quit working for the church. Quit being associated with the clerical collar that has been used for harm.

I sat with lots of feelings for a while. On one hand, I experienced the trust given to me Friday night as I wore the clerical collar and walked the streets of San Francisco. I felt closely connected to the ministry of Jesus as I drew attention to the radical statement of love for the homeless and for the drunks. And on the other hand, I felt real shame for how this symbol of trust had betrayed many. I hated how this symbol now triggers abuse of power and bodies, fear and secrets.

I continue to sit with the complicated symbol of the collar and I struggle with how I can best reclaim this symbol for good. I'm glad the media unveiled such a shameful and horrific abuse of the clergy because it takes away the power of the secret and critiques blind trust. I pray that as I - a Presbyterian clergywoman - wear the clerical collar, my life and ministry can be toward rebuilding the trust given to those wearing a clerical collar. I now wear it with much more awareness that the trust I am given is not always earned and I need to be all the more careful with the authority I am given.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Mom's Celebration of Life

The Reverend Doctor Eugenia (Genie) Varker Martin

My mom loved big. And she was clear that her love came from God - 
Fierce, compassionate, overwhelming love.

You know it because she shared it with you.
She shared it with all of God’s children. 

Genie never met a stranger. 
She made friends quicker than anyone I know. 
In a moments time, she would know you - and love you.
She made space for people in her heart and in her home.

Today, I am struck by Paul’s letter to the Romans and the language of adoption - OUR adoption as children of God. Through Christ, we are more alike than we are different…because we are from the same God. We are…children of God. 

My mom lived and breathed this truth in her ministry. We learned this early as kids because she was always bringing people home to live with us.  

Someone had a need and she had the resource, and by God, she was going to meet that need!

I can say that it was a good experience growing up. We were loved by a whole host of people.

Genie embodied what it means to expand your family to include God’s family and she passed that on to many. 

In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus teaches us where we should look to find God. He illustrates a scene in which the righteous are told that they cared for Christ when:

  • they saw the hungry and gave food
  • thirsty and gave drink
  • a stranger welcomed
  • the sick and prisoner were visited 

He said, 
“Just as you did it to one of the least of these…who are members of my family… you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)

Genie was so interested in people because she saw Christ so strongly through them - through you. 

Mom could find God’s presence in everyone and she took Jesus’ words to heart by seeking out time especially with “the least of these.” 
She wasn’t going to miss Jesus in our midst! 

Now, my mother - the Reverend Doctor Genie Martin - was not perfect. She, like all of us had shortcomings. 

One of my favorites was her impatience. 
I'm pretty sure I get that from her. 

My mom wanted things when she wanted them, which caused some embarrassment for us kids when we went out to dinner and the waiter or waitress just wasn’t moving fast enough.

She was impatient in her driving, even talking herself out of a few speeding tickets on her way to do important ministry!

But she was impatient about the right things, too. My mom was impatient with social injustice. It hurt her heart to see how we, as sinful humans, shut God’s children out - how we treat God’s children as “less than.” 

I’ve heard stories over the years and have seen with my own eyes how my mom changed...how she stretched her heart to make room for someone different than her. 
Then the grief she felt when others, even those she loved, wouldn’t do the same. 

My mom’s love for people - for God’s children - was heart-bursting big.

The prophet Isaiah prepares us for what we celebrate today. Resurrection to new life.

“Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the EVERLASTING God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 40)

“Have you not known? Have you not heard?"

Jesus died for us.
Jesus was resurrected for us. 
Jesus goes ahead to prepare the way....to set the table...to welcome us into God’s kingdom.

My mom was prepared. 

Over Christmas she took me to lunch. She looked at me and said,

“As a mother, I’m not ready to go.”

“But as a Christian… as a Pastor who has witnessed the death and resurrection of the saints who have gone before us...

I can’t wait!
I can't wait to see what is next."

I looked at her and I felt her tension. The sadness in her heart to let go of dreams unrealized - to know she would say goodbye to those she loved. 

And the joy and anticipation she felt for getting to cross over from life to death to new life. 

My mom was not afraid.  She was prepared for this moment - for her death and resurrection. 

She was convinced. 
She lived unshakeable faith in Christ. 

It is a true gift she gives to each one of us. 

I spent my life watching my mom point to the source of her love in both her words and her actions. The confidence she had in God is the most generous gift to us:  She was prepared to go home because she knew her home was already prepared.

So praise be to God for the life of Genie Martin! 

She is welcomed with a chorus of voices singing, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Stress Loss



You know how weight loss adds show the before and after pictures to encourage you to try it yourself? Well, here is my stress loss campaign! 

I feel like a different person returning from my sabbatical (religious-speak for extended vacation away from work). I'm more chill, less worried about the little things, and best part...FULLY RESTED. Those two words are ones I haven't seen in a long time. 

My face holds less tension, my shoulders hold less stress and my doctor shows that my blood pressure has dropped. Those are definitely some practical, visible, tangible results of STRESS LOSS! 

This last month of August Tim and I both took off from work, boarded a plane and headed far west to New Zealand and Australia. We had plans for generally where we would be in those countries each day and which Air Bnb/hotel we were to stay for the night, but other than that our trip was left up for daily adventure. We went to museums, hiked national parks, saw incredible sounds of water with rainbows and wildlife, kayaked, snorkeled, swam, ran, and lounged. We took a long road trip around the southern island of New Zealand and felt like we were gawking at  National Park beauty of snow capped mountains and water everywhere we went. I got to cuddle a koala and feed kangaroos out of my hand in Australia. I took time to look around me. Look up. Look down. Look within and remind myself that even in the midst of a profession that is about caring for others, I can and will care for my needs, too. 

I couldn't have picked a better travel partner than Tim. Even after a full month of travel with just him (this is a feat for an extravert), I didn't want it to end. I'm grateful for the time we got to spend just with each other. Present with each other. Present - without stress or worry or agenda - with each other. It was and is such a gift to our marriage. 

How long does it take to lose stress, you ask? Honestly, I'm not sure. I think somewhere between 2-3 weeks my body went into a deeper level of relaxation. I spent most of the first week sleeping through things, including an intense rugby match. My body was no doubt fighting jet lag, but also just trying to catch up - To get the most of this deep rest before time is cut short. 

Tim and I are very fortunate to have taken this time. It was a gift of my church and a wise and generous move of Tim's company's partners to let us get a way for a bit. And we are forever thankful to those communities. This time away feels like a game changer. A reset button. A fresh new start with some more energy and more balanced perspective. 

So, I encourage you to try it for yourself! Pastor-types, negotiate sabbaticals. I chose one month every three years instead of three months every seven. Church-types, encourage your pastor to take extended breaks. Other worker-bees like Tim, I know your professions aren't likely to take the biblical support for sabbaticals, but find the vacation time, ask for time off, it's amazing and well worth the extra effort.

This might be all I write about our month away...seems like work to do more...however,  if you're on instagram, you'll be seeing pictures from our trip on Thursdays (#tbt) from now until forever :) 
Weekly reminders for me and glimpses into what we saw and did for you that helped me gain this perspective on life and appreciation for full and real rest.

Here's todays pic:

#tbt Coolest Pool, Sydney, Australia

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Into Deeper Waters


When I was first learning about the ocean, my dad would take me and my sister out with him. The two of us, one on each hip. We'd watch in amazement how he just kept walking through the crashing waves. We'd squeal, he'd jump and we'd be on the other side of the wave. He wanted to show us how just beyond the first break of waves,  the waters calm down. It's lake-like. We'd float for a bit and then he'd tell us it's time to go further. With surprised looks on our faces, and hearts full of trust for our dad we'd wrap our arms tight around him and explore deeper. I remember some hard conversations. The two of us young girls not wanting to go further and my dad in an attempt to help us overcome our fears would encourage us along. I remember the day we went to the point where he couldn't touch. He was treading water. It was an amazing moment. Not one of us drowned.

My childhood memory reminds me of Jesus calling Peter out onto the water (Matthew 14:22-33). Jesus invites Peter into deeper waters to explore what he hadn't seen before. Peter learns, as do we, that it is all about trust.

This year my mom was diagnosed with cancer. It's taken an emotional toll on me and my family. And it's certainly taken lots of time for me to feel like I can process it, much less write about it.

In a lot of ways my mom is the emotional bedrock of my family. She is a professional juggler of both family and church needs. It's pretty amazing just how many people my mom can keep track of and love.

When we stepped deeper into the reality of her illness, roles had to shift...and trust had to be reworked. It feels to me like Jesus is inviting me into deeper waters and I am terrified. Whose feet exactly can touch the ground? My family and friends close to mom have had to dig deep within ourselves to find something bigger to trust. Something big enough to overcome our fears of falling in. For me, it's Jesus.

I am sad about my mom's illness. Sad about how cancer is fighting her and sad about how the treatments are fighting her. I'm sad when I see how hard she fights to still be our mom or my dad's partner or my grandmother's daughter or my aunt and uncle's sister. Somehow she musters up the energy each day to walk a little deeper into the waters. For herself, but also for us.

I feel Jesus beckoning me into deeper waters with him and I'm convinced I'm still treading water where I am.  I trust deep down, like I trusted my dad, that we'll be ok. That Jesus won't let me slip under. That I'll be amazed looking back at how we all stay afloat. But, I'm still terrified. Still watching the big crashing waves with fear and awe. Still holding tight to Jesus as we pass through each wave and come to the other side.

We don't get a choice if we experience rifts and currents in life, but we do choose how we ride them. When we risk some movement through the breaking waves, we can sometimes find calm and peace on the other side. With some intentional trust, we can lean back and float for a while. We won't sink down. Trusting even in the deep waters, we can rest here for a bit.

Jesus does this. He takes us to deeper waters. But he is trustworthy. He'll be there with us. Ready to catch our hand when we begin to sink. Ready to move us to a more restful spot before we begin deeper again.    

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Ashes for Action

Following a full morning of #AshesonBART, our church intern Lacey Hunter, elder Tom Pack and I gathered in front of the immigration court building in San Francisco to offer a service of ashes and prayers.

Together with the Interfaith Coalition of Immigrant Rights, we lamented the fear and uncertainty that hundreds of thousands of immigrants feel as they cannot yet apply for safety through Obama's extended programs DAPA and DACA. Read more here.

The connection for me is clear. On Ash Wednesday, we step into the season of Lent. We mark a cross with ashes on our forehead and we remember that we are mere dust...beloved dust...and that as God's creation we belong (in life and in death) to God. We also belong to each other...

"Somos todos seres humanos." We are all human beings. We are connected beyond borders, beyond governments, beyond racial differences...by our faith. By our Creator. By our God.

Thus, Ash Wednesday and this season of Lent cannot be just a time to focus on our personal relationships with God...as important as those are. We cannot just be aware of how God is present to us, but to our neighbors as well.

The ashes remind us that we are dust and we will return to dust. That dust is all of creation...God's creation...we are connected.

This lenten season I'm excited to walk with my community (Mission Bay Community Church) toward a deeper faith as we seek to see and care for our neighbor.

As a great mentor and professor Bill Brown once said, "May we see what God sees, and may our hearts break over what breaks God's heart."

Parts of our Service of Ashes and Prayer was documented by NBC Bay Area News. You can watch online here: http://www.nbcbayarea.com/video/#!/on-air/as-seen-on/Protests-Follow-Court-Order-on-Obamas-Immigration-Reform/292514031

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Love is a Risk

Last year I determined that my life goal is to take risks for the sake of the gospel. As I live it, I realize that this takes shape both in my professional life and personal life. In both, it is often the risk to open my heart to love.

This Valentine's Day, we get swept away with images and messages of love. And though our culture prioritizes intimate love, there are many more forms. Love between parents and children, siblings, grandparents and grandchildren, friends, colleagues. This year, I received a valentine from one of my mentors.

Love for me means many things -

Love is an intentional action to care for someone's needs above your own.
Love is a feeling of belonging, being known and accepted fully.
Love is opening your heart to let someone else in.

...Ultimately, love is a risk.

In my professional life caring for people, love is a risk I take every day. I meet people, I look for God's presence in them, as I get to know them and care for them, I begin to love them. This takes investment of time and emotional energy. And sometimes that Christian love spreads and multiplies and I am amazed by the joy it brings. And sometimes it falls short leaving me a bit empty and tired.

In my personal life too, love is a risk. Risking to invest in a new friend in a transient place when we really don't know how long they can or will stick around. I risk when I invest all of who I am and all I have in my spouse, Tim. If one day I were without him, a large part of me would be missing. Same with my family and close friends. With each step deeper into love, I'm risking more of myself. Vulnerability and parts of me I won't get back.

This Valentine's Day, I am aware of these risks. I'm aware of my friends who have lost someone or several people that they love. They mourn this day because they know what the fullness of joy love brings and they feel the empty space. I'm aware of friends taking a risk to love and the fear they feel of being vulnerable and hurt. And I'm aware through my social media feeds and texts and calls how worthwhile these risks for love are... because regardless of what kind of love it is, love is what binds us together. Love is what reminds us of our worth. Love, for me, is the purpose of life.
The risk well worth taking.

Happy Valentine's Day.