How Can We Keep From Singing?

Of all the things it needs, this last week needs prayer.  This last week needs prayer, and this next week needs prayer.

These are the words I offered as our pastoral prayer during worship this morning at Community Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Kansas City, Missouri.  IMG_1119

This past week, Suzanne and I were on vacation together in Colorado.  We did our best not to look at our phones or to engage the world much, but it was exceptionally difficult as our phones chimed every day with escalating and terrifying news updates.  On one of our days, we hiked a small-easy trail near Conifer, and sat beside the crisp mountain rivers.  As I wrote these words, those waters flowed the words of a song back into my heart.

For those not in Kansas City (and even for those in the city), I’ve connected some of the pieces of this prayer via hyperlink to things that occurred in and around the Kansas City Metroplex in the last week.  Also, note that it is the practice of our church to conclude the pastoral prayer with the Lord’s Prayer each week.

…and, yes, in case you’re curious…I did sing the first part…so you should too as you read this…


Minister:  Christ Be With You.

Congregation: And Also With You.

Minister: Let us pray…

…A deep silence, for our sighs that are too deep for words…

My life flows on,

in endless song,

above earth’s lamentation.

I hear the clear,

though far off hymn

that hails a new creation.

No storm can shake my inmost calm

while to that Rock I’m clinging.

Since love is Lord of heav’n and earth,

how can I keep from singing?

Robert Lowry, “My Life Flows On”

Where do we even start this morning, O God?

The world this week has tried to keep us from singing,

and our hearts come filled with lamentations.

 

We began our week together with a senseless act of violence,

the death of Officer Gary Michael, Jr.

For his service and life, we offer up our thanksgiving.

And for the man whose brokenness led to Officer Michael’s death,

we grieve for what his life has become.

 

And even as we grieve this, we lament that even yet in the streets of our cities,

people die by the hands of one another,

that our homicide rates creep higher still.

We weep at the lives lost this week in three officer-involved shootings in our city.

We pray for the families of those who have died,

and we pray for those who found themselves on the other side of the gun.

 

And even as we grieve this, we offer up our own anxieties and fears

of a phrase we wish did not exist,

a phrase created to protect ourselves

but ultimately a phrase that could lead us on the path of death.

The phrase,

Mutually-Assured Destruction.

Our hearts break for a world that seeks fire and fury

before it seeks peace and understanding.

We pray this morning for wisdom to rain down,

for tensions to ease,

for good to face down evil.

 

And even as we grieve this…our hearts break

for the terror, the horror,

the disgusting acts found in Charlottesville, Virginia yesterday.

O God, we decry to you, we condemn and we grieve deeply

the brokenness and the insanity that is

white supremacy and white nationalism.

We mourn the loss of three lives–

three.  lives.

Three lives lost in this angry and value-less cause.

There is a picture I keep seeing, O God, of young white women and men,

men who look like me.

I see them holding torches and the flames reflect in their eyes,

and I see something so familiar:

the glint of privilege,

the glint of entitlement,

the flicker of self-hatred,

the flicker of  fear.

 

Extinguish within this moment any notion that seeks to deny the truth

that we are all Your beloved, and

that we are all Your wanted and beloved, and

that we are all Your needed and wanted and beloved,

and that your love is strong enough to heal all brokenness.

Make it our song that we cannot keep from singing,

our song that rises above the chant of “blood and soil,”

make it our song that cries out

Bread and Wine

Body and Blood

Justice and Mercy

Grace and Peace

Death and Resurrection

Love and Love, and LOVE, AND LOVE.

Alpha and Omega,

give us the song of action beyond lamentation in these days.

Because the voices of hatred and indifference in this world are getting louder,

lift our voices, move our hearts, and give us the words to sing,

as you always have, to speak truth to power,

just as you did so long ago when you taught us to pray, saying,

Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever.

Amen.

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Chaos in Consolation

We were going to get new couches.  The couches we have are relics of my wife’s life before we married, when she decorated her whole home in every imaginable shade of purple, before I uttered the heretical words, “I don’t think I love purple as much as you do.”  We made it through that dark day.  Three years married and going strong!

IMG_8810Now, the dark purple couches are the chosen spot for our sweet medium-sized white-haired dog to do all her shedding and for our grubby twenty-month-old to wipe the veggie straw crumbs off her fingers.  Just like I say, “We were going to get new couches,”  I could sum up this phase of our life together with any number of other similar statements:  “I wanted to go to that writing workshop last year, but it was, like, two whole days long,” “The film fest sounds fantastic but do they have some kind of childcare?,” “Yeah, we went to the Auto Show to look at minivans.”

A spiritual mentor and I sat talking about this chaotic parenting place I’m in.  “I just need a routine.  Something I can hold onto in the midst of this chaos of parenting a toddler and preparing for a new baby!  Where can I find some new discipline?,” I begged.  She looked at me with stable, centered eyes and said, “Maybe it’s time for you to find and embrace a spirituality of chaos.”

Our friends in parenting have shared that, until their kids were four-to-six-years-old, they lived in a cloud.  They paint a picture of themselves, sleep-deprived with pureed pea stains on their shirts, smelling faintly of the last poopy diaper they changed, always covered in sticky fingerprints, for four…straight…years.  Their stories always end with “…and then, when the kids were maybe school age, the haze lifted, and we felt like people again.  Coincidentally that’s when we stopped drinking so much.”  Four to six years old, I always think.  Lord, have mercy.  

In our cloud of chaos, there’s a lot of mercy in the image of us holding tight to one another, me to my wife to our daughter and her to us, all of us preparing to expand the circle with our new daughter-to-be-born.  I’m learning to call the mercy we share consolation.  We cling fast to each other, just learning how and why we want to be held together, focused so closely on one another that there’s little time to look outside of our chaos cloud.  That’s consoling.

This post is the first of a few missives from that cloud.  This is an attempt to hold fast to what I need to hold fast to in these days, and to also peek my head above the cloud for some perspective.  It’s just barely under a year since my last post on my site.  This last year has been consolation-upon-consolation: emerging from sabbatical refocused on God-Family-Calling, finding joy in the giggles and play of my sweet little one, living into the fulfillment and challenge and contentment of loving my beloved spouse.  Even departing the congregation I loved to serve in Smithville was a consolation– anytime we follow God’s calling to seek a new spirit of energy and direction, there is mercy and grace there even if there’s tension and sadness in the transition.

These words, consolation and desolation, comes from Ignatius of Loyola. Iggy saw our lives caught between desolation and consolation.  We find ourselves in places of desolation when we turn in on ourselves, cutting ourselves off from the communities that love us and losing our ability to see the landmarks that have marked our journey with God.  In these places, we look around and wonder, if I wasted this much time getting to here, why should I even try to get beyond this?  Chaos tends to lead us to accept desolation quickly, because desolation is human and it’s easy.  Chaos can also be comfortable, especially when you can’t particularly control what’s going to come next.  Say, when you’re parenting a toddler.

Writing has been a place of desolation this last year for me.

So, I’ve spent a little time revisiting people that stirred in me an interest to write, and that took me back to Anne.  I read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, where she talks about shitty first drafts and making excuses not to write.  And she says,

“I don’t think you have time to waste not writing because you’re afraid you won’t be good at it.”  

Anne lobs this at me from a consolation place, and begs me to follow her there.  And I want to go.  There the energy goes back outside of ourselves, balance returns, vision clears, and we look around us only to discover all the Ebenezers we and God placed as we walked thus far together.

My family has been an amazing and constant consolation place for me in this last year.  AND…big AND…I also still have felt a stirring in my soul to write.  That I haven’t written hinges on nothing more than overindulged self-doubt and over-empowered imposter syndrome.  The only way we move toward consolation, though, is by praying for the strength to get there, dedicating our thoughts and words to discerning where God is in our lives, and trusting that our communities will love us into finding our right way.

So…here’s what I’m saying…I’m going to sit on my purple couches and I’m going to do my damned best to write more.  I’m going to sit in our cloud of chaos, cling close to my amazing family, and face this desolation by writing out of it.  Because, in writing, I’m praying, discerning and seeking community.  In writing, I’m working toward chaos in consolation and consolation in chaos.

As long as that work’s happening, I can stand to sit on these couches until my kids are four-to-six years old.   But then we’re buying new ones.  And they won’t be purple.

An Obituary for Sabbeardical

Sabbeardical, nine weeks, went to the great beard-yond on September 7, 2016.

He was born on the Fourth of July, 2016, “beard” of Rev. Ryan Motter. Caught with wanton abandon and hipster desire, Ryan thought, “How can my face say, ‘I am resting in the goodness of the Lord?’” Thus, Sabbeardical grew, much like Athena from the head of Zeus.

Sabbeardical was a patchwork of grace, a tapestry woven of unusually fast-growing strands and sadly puberty-forgotten stubs. He loved long walks with his dog sister, Jeff Louise, with the wind whipping about his three or four long spots. Although the neck beard was so strong with him that once considered donning a Straw Hat and running away to live with the Amish, his life was destined to be as brief as every other rumspringa.

His least favorite activities included being pulled during 4 AM cuddle sessions with his sister Lydia Grace, and eating toast with jam.

One of the most rewarding relationships of his life was with Rev. Suzanne Kerr Motter. Recognizing that he was the most major facial accomplishment of Ryan, Suzanne said of her deep love for Sabbeardical, “I love that Ryan followed his dream of having a beard. I didn’t love the dream itself, but I loved Ryan following his dream.” Sabbeardical cherished those words, almost as much as Suzanne’s other deeply loving words “Your mustache gets in my mouth when I kiss you.”

Sabbeardical is survived by the Reverends Motter, Lydia Grace, and Jeff Louise, as well as Chest Hair, Back Hair, and Old Whitey, the long white hair that grows reckless and free out of Rev. Ryan’s right ear.

In lieu of burial, Sabbeardical will be donated to science, so that others might gain wisdom from his majesty, his threadbare wantonness, and his unnatural growing patterns.

Donations of razors and shaving cream can be made in his memory to Rev. Ryan Motter and other men incapable of growing majestic beards: Travis Smith McKee, Josh Patty, Andy Beck, Ryan Arnold, Jonathan Chandler, Ryan Steitz, Justin Steitz, David Borrowman and Jeff Becker. 

And it seems to me you lived your life

Like a candle in the wind

Never knowing who to cling to

When the rain set in

And I would liked to have known you

But I was just a kid

Your candle burned out long before

Your legend ever did

Rest in Peace, Sweet Prince.

Rest in Peace.

*This obituary is best read while listening to “Ashokan Farewell,” which you can listen to, after a fifteen- second commercial for Eggo waffles, by clicking here. If you didn’t see this notice before you read the obituary the first time, then go back and read it again with the music on in the background. Because…Sabbeardical deserves it.

When Grace Comes

I was going to take off the first week and spend it at Taizé. If not there, definitely Iona. If neither of those, then I was definitely going to walk the Camino. After that, I was going to spend a week at the Abbey in Gethsemani, get in touch with Thomas Merton and the Holy Spirit. And then, time to relax on a beach somewhere, with some awesome alcoholic drink made in a pineapple, served with three umbrellas on top and a bunch of maraschino cherries.

But…on the first morning, I woke up in my parents’ basement…where I live until we find a house for ourselves. It was 5:30 AM, and Lydia was awake, just like she had been three times in the night. Suzanne woke up, got ready and went to work. My mom usually takes care of Lydia on Mondays, but that day she had a morning appointment. Dad had an early job and left around 7:30. So, at 9 AM, on the floor in the basement of my parent’s house, with my infant daughter incessantly trying to stick her fingers in every electrical plug in sight as the “Baby Einstein” Pandora station played in the background…I thought,

“This is not the sabbatical I imagined.”

Over the course of the last five weeks, every person curious about this time has immediately asked, “Ooooo…what are you doing for your Sabbatical?” The first thought comes quickly: Mention the three trips – a week with friends in Illinois, a week at the Academy for Spiritual Formation in Nebraska, and a week studying the Enneagram in Dallas. With rare exception, the person asking is disappointed with “just three trips?” That’s even before mentioning that most of my mornings are taken up with Lydia, trying to teach her for the five-hundredth time that the red cup will only stack on top of the blue cup.

Sabbaticals are meant to be about rest for spirit, body and mind. But the truth is, sabbaticals are often yoked with great expectations of major travels, significant projects and ministry-changing revelations. Not only that, we pastor-folk are built to feel guilty if we are not “producing something” or “doing what we think some of our church members might be wanting us to do,” which is another way of saying, producing something.

That’s not my sabbatical.

My sabbatical is spending time watching two tiny teeth come in on Lydia’s bottom row.

It’s waiting for my sister’s bump to become a baby niece (seven days left!).

It’s about going to see summer blockbuster movies at matinee times, alone, and reading books by poolside, alone.

It’s about house hunting, one house after another, after another, after another, after another.

It’s about trying to get back to running after losing my momentum three years ago, beating myself up on the days I’m too lazy to go and feeling like my legs are cement on the days I do.

It’s about about early mornings spent with a cup of coffee, a journal, and my bible, and evenings watching the Olympics with my arm around my wife.

Sabbatical is about learning the meaning of Grace…you know, that thing that breaks in when our greatest expectations are frustrated and best intentions thwarted. When God breaks into our lives in such a disruptive way, its best that we take the space and time to pay attention.  The practice of sabbatical rest (and it does take some practice, because resting comes anything but natural in this world) is good because it gives us the distance we need to let our Creator enter our lives and say, “Woah…you got kind of worked up there for a bit. Let’s slow down, take a deep breath, and start fresh.”

Our expectations will continually be thwarted if they’re set without grace. Our identities shape our holy needs. If we don’t know who we are, if we’re not in touch with the person God is breathing us into being, we will constantly set impossible expectations for ourselves, our lives, the lives of our family and friends, not to mention the lives of the beloved churches we serve.  If we are too busy to remember whose we are, we will set priorities that only further separate us from the One who is at the center of our world.

To keep the deep rich goodness of life with the Holy Spirit, God calls us to breathe. Breathing is a holy task. Creation came from God’s breath speaking forth words of weaving onto the waters of chaos. How can we expect to re-create ourselves during Sabbath seasons (or any other seasons, really) if we don’t give ourselves the space and grace necessary to truly breathe in this holy truth apart from the chaos of our regular lives?

Taking a deep breath, I’m embracing some new identities for myself, things that I dreamed might be part of my calling as a pastor and things that are reshaping that vocation in ways I never imagined: pastor’s husband, father, uncle, writer, poet, mystic. Many of those words still feel totally foreign to who I am, and that’s good: few identities worthwhile ever come easy.

Grace will give all of us a chance to let go of the expectations that we might already have for those new identities and the expectations I might make for them, so that the breath of God might be enough to sustain this resting body for a moment of reframing and reimagining.

To keep the deep rich goodness of life with the holy spirit, god calls us to breath-2

Thoughts from Convocation: #Sabbatical2016

It’s been a week since I spent a lot of time with our African-American family from across the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  The National Convocation came to Kansas City for its biennial session, drawing nearly a thousand representatives from South Carolina to California, from Ferguson to Baltimore, from Washington, D.C. to Nairobi.

The National Convocation is a gathering “for the discussion of pertinent issues related to black church life in the context of total church life, for fellowship, program promotion, leadership training, and such other general purposes as shall support and strengthen the congregations involved in the total mission of the church.”

I’ll confess that I wasn’t really familiar with the Convocation when I signed up to attend, and that I mainly did because I felt the call of hospitality with the Biennial Session being held in my city.  I am grateful that I went and for the warm inclusion of this part of our Disciples family.  The Convocation’s voices are leading our denomination in paths of gospel witness and social justice that must be heard, understood, and followed.

So, here are a few key reflections for me on this time.  Even as I write them, I realize they’re inadequate glances at deep wells for conversation.  My thoughts are just starting places:

Convocation gives voice to names and faces you may never hear at General Assembly

Shortly after the conclusion of the Convocation, the list of preachers for the 2017 Indianapolis General Assembly was released, and it includes an African-American woman, a Latino-american man, and a White woman, plus the as-yet-to-be-named(-or-categorized) General Minister and President candidate.

The Disciples have spent the vast majority of their last one-hundred years in Assemblies listening to White male voices.  While perhaps there are White male voices with words worth all of us hearing today, the voices of the Convocation have many more things left to say that most of us still need to hear (and rehear, and rehear, and rehear.)

The stories and names of the Convocation bring so much to our shared history.  Voices like Jesse Jackson, Jr., Dietra Wise Baker,  and J. Lawrence Turner are shaping our life together.  Listen for and hear the ministry being done by Chris Dorsey, Derrick Perkins, Ayanna Johnson Watkins, and Angela Whitenhill, Christian Smith, Rhonda Aldridge, Milton Bowers.

Not only that, but take a moment to recognize the historical sculpting done by our African-American Disciples, as we have benefited so greatly from the contributions of Preston Taylor, Jacob Kenoly, and Thomas Buchanan Frost, just to name a few.  Look them up.

 

White Church needs to learn A LOT from the Black Church about Music in Worship

As I came into worship on the second night, I noticed a father, mother, and two young daughters sit down in the seats behind me.  As worship began to get into the swing of things, we were all on our feet, moving with the rhythm and feeling the Spirit alive in the songs.  As a new song began, the man behind me let out the loudest groan, caught in ecstasy, from deep within him.  He clutched his daughter close and said, in a voice loud enough for his daughter and everyone around him to hear, “Oh, I LOVE THIS SONG.”

Perhaps I have missed this in the worship services at my church, but I rarely hear the first refrains of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” followed by guttural exclamations and shouts of “Oh, I LOVE THIS SONG.”  Maybe our folks do this while they listen to K-LOVE in the car?

If most White churches require music meant primarily to evoke comfortable nostalgia instead of spiritual engagement, is it time to reload the iPod and pitch some of the hymns?  How will the children of our churches learn to love worship if their parents don’t hold them close and say, “Oh, I LOVE THIS SONG?”  I know I sing one hymn to our daughter each night to get her to sleep, mainly because I want her to know the words to it in her bones.

The Black Church knows music in its bones.

 

Black Lives Matter.  Period.

Michael Brown.  If there was one name mentioned more than any other, his was it.  

On Friday afternoon, a panel viewed and discussed the movie Injustice Anywhere- The Movement.  Take the 51 minutes to watch the movie by clicking here.  Do it if you’re a Disciple.  Do it if you’re a human being.  The collection of stories of those who were involved in Ferguson will give you a great deal for which you can pray, and a great deal that causes you to consider the call you have to fight racial injustice.

The Christian Church must confront the overwhelming evidence of unjust African-American deaths at the hands of law enforcement, mass incarceration of African-Americans, and systemic poverty that disproportionately afflicts people of color.

There are at least two obvious “on-the-nose” reasons for our support.  First, our 2020 Vision Mission Imperative calls us to be anti-Racist and pro-Reconciling, “that recognizes the systemic and symptomatic pathologies present in the United States since slavery.”

Second, at our recent 2015 General Assembly, Sense-of-the-Assembly Resolution GA-1518, “Black Lives Matter: A Movement for All,” was adopted.  Its language is clear: “the General Assembly…will support Black Lives Matter: A Movement for All by joining the cause; sharing awareness; supporting and encouraging our congregations to be safe spaces and sanctuary for peaceful protestors, participate in and host sacred conversations and dialogue on race relations and inclusion, and be spiritual allies in prayer…”.

Sense-of-the-Assembly resolutions are only as serious as our congregations allow them to be and I can tell you this: our African-American congregations take this one deadly serious.

 

The Convocation Feels Way More Hopeful Than General Assembly

“Hindsight.  Insight.  Foresight.”  These three words were the theme for our time together, and each day centered around a word, all drawn from a core scriptural focus:

And the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.

For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.

Habakkuk 2: 2-3, KJV

The Convocation evoked an important contrast to many of our Disciple Assemblies: it asked us to look backwards and inwards as well as forwards, to celebrate history, embrace current opportunities and challenges, and imagine a mission and vision of what could be.

So often it seems Assemblies are generalized responses to the overwhelming statistical depression afflicting the so-called Mainline.  Themes like, “Teach Us to Pray,” “Soar,” and even the 2017 theme of “One,” give the sense of disembodied hopes and dreams we pray for instead of imperatives and missions we share.  They are amorphous rallying cries that speak more to our fear of dying than to our common identity, and thus they don’t give us as much hope as I think they’re likely meant to.

The Convocation teaches us that Hope must be embodied to be emboldened.  The Black church knows a shared narrative of God’s grace being shared with us, and it knows it potently.  Jesse Jackson, Jr. lifted up these words from Frederick Douglass, “I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”

Perhaps we Disciples can learn to awaken in ourselves this impulse to move in shared mission together.  Perhaps this is where our hope lies, in taking the inspiration of the Convocation and making it our own, working for justice and praying for God’s hindsight, insight, and foresight to build a better, more sustainable church.

Prayers for Our Daughter

On the day that you were born,

the world stopped for five seconds,

dust paused in the hospital lights like

small ice crystals glittering the world,

and the blue scrubs, caught in the wander,

slowed to stop and wonder,

“How will this one be different than the others?”

 

And then, like a sudden ice age that

caught Mastadons so off-guard they were frozen whole with their eyes open,

you have stood our lives stock still and

are changing us glacially,

carving new valleys and peaks in our souls,

every time you drag up onto your butt,

and pull forward, looking at us eagerly for confirmation.

 

The thaw is already coming,

heat building, every time your legs like

pistons powering a building internal combustion,

plant, root, shoot you up with a shout of accomplishment,

proclaiming, “HERE I COME, READY OR NOT.”

 

Grow up.

We beg you.

Explode out into this world.

Start with its foundations.

Rattle them.

Let us just be the voices in this wilderness who cry,

“The one who is more powerful than us is coming after us. Prepare her way.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Last weekend, Lydia was dedicated at Lee’s Summit Christian Church.  Suzanne has been part of the church family there for nearly ten years, serving loyally and loving steadfastly.  As we prepared for Lydia’s dedication, Suzanne told me that the church’s practice is to print a small bulletin insert with a scripture, the details of the kid’s birth, and then something of the parent’s choosing on the back.

“You should write something,” she said.

I’m not much of a poet, but as feelings poured out onto paper this poem came.  After some small consideration between the two of us, we decided that the poem probably wasn’t the best fit for this service.  Suzanne’s comment, I think, was, “I don’t think anyone’s ever said the word ‘Mastadon’ during a child dedication.”

So, I went back to the page, and wrote a prayer for our daughter.  The prayer that came out is printed below, the poem above.  I like them both, but what does this mastodon father really know?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When You knit this Beloved girl together,

we dreamt You had so many hopes for her,

 

Because we have so, so, so many hopes in her,

A hope for her growth, strong yet healthy,

A hope for her spirit, free yet compassionate,

A hope for her curiosity, wild yet ready,

A hope for her love, boundless yet wise,

A hope for her life, vibrant yet intentional.

 

We’d be lying if we told You that, with all our hope, comes no fear.

Save her from the idea that she is anything less than Enough.

Protect her from any who might take her spirit,

Keep her from disillusionment and cynicism,

Shelter her from those who would take advantage of her grace,

Comfort her when the world breaks her heart.

 

If we can ask You one more thing,

give her parents the strength

to do all these things with You,

and with the village that You

are weaving together around our daughter.

 

Thank You, God. For everything.

 

Especially her.

 

Amen.

Let It Rise: #Sabbatical2016

I almost forgot theIMG_2929 recipe. A few years ago, I baked the honey whole-wheat bread almost every other day. I knew that in these first days of Sabbatical, I wanted to make the bread again. But, I couldn’t remember the recipe.

A third-cup of wild honey, two scoops of yeast to start, and three cups of very warm water. Mix in five cups of bread flour, and let it rise, at least half-an-hour.

I have become…picky…when it comes to the bread that we use for Communion in church. This is what we do when we are the ones who handle and break the bread each week. The very best bread is homemade, fresh and warm, with that aroma of comfort emanating from it. The absolute very best Communion bread is the kind that some creative liturgist bakes in the church oven before service starts, filling the church with the smell of the Wonder Bread plant and making everyone anticipate eucharist because they are literally salivating for it. When you lift the loaf, bless it, and break it, a small puff of steam rises like the Holy Spirit itself. That’s good bread.

Mix in another third-cup of honey, a tablespoon of salt, and three tablespoons of melted butter. Add in two cups whole-wheat flour and mix well. Flour a flat surface and knead with whole-wheat flour until not real sticky. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to coat the dough. Cover with a dishtowel, put it in a warm place, and let it rise.

The problem comes when the best isn’t available. Take the best loaf from the over-flowing Panera donation that the church’s food pantry receives. If there are two best loaves, freeze one and save it for later. That is the third, *last ditch* loaf (used only if necessary), but only if there’s no freezer burn. Only in cases where there is no suitable bread left in the church should the bread be “store bought.”

On those days, I want to buy it because I want to make sure it’s the best loaf. Plus, I don’t want it to be just an “el cheapo” loaf of French Bread, a generic loaf with nothing special about it. If it can’t be fresh and homemade, the loaf has to look nice, asthetically pleasing, artisanal. You know, in case someone ever chooses this particular communion moment as the subject of their still-life painting.

Punch the dough down. Divide into three loaves. Place in oiled loaf pans, and let it rise.

On Monday, after Suzanne had gotten ready to go to work and Lydia was squared away in Grammy’s care, the reality of sabbatical began to set in. I have heard that the first one to three weeks of Sabbatical feel a bit like vacation. For this Enneagram 8, that vacation lasted about two hours.

I needed something, something to create, someone to care for, something to challenge. So much of my identity in the last five years has come to be bound up in my identity as a pastor who tries to be everything to everyone. I told Suzanne, “I’m a do-er, I need something to DO.” The next morning, Suzanne went to see her spiritual director and apparently told her about what I’d said. On the phone after her session, Suzanne said, “Mary Kay says that there’s a reason we’re Human Beings and not Human Doings.” I said, “Mary Kay is not my spiritual director.”

When dough has topped loaf pans by one inch, bake at 350 degrees for thirty minutes. Do not overbake.

So, bread was made. Measuring honey, leveling cups of flour, putting muscle behind mixing and then letting it rise. Mixing more, kneading with dusted knuckles and open hands, and then letting it rise. Punching it down, cutting it and letting it rise.

There is a time for us to break bread and a time for the Bread to break us open. So this is my confession at the beginning of sabbatical. I have become terrible at least two things: letting things rise, and noticing them when they do. Silence is something I recommend to others regularly and too often fail to practice myself. Reading has become something “I need the right time for,” and writing has become a chore.

Sabbatical isn’t vacation; it is time to let God’s spirit rise and a time to notice that Spirit as it whispers, “Remember my recipe for you. You are enough.”

Lightly brush the tops of loaves with two tablespoons of butter to prevent crust from getting hard. Cool completely.