Monthly Archives: January 2015

Homeless In Alexandria

alexandriaIt’s hard to say exactly who ‘the homeless’ are…

As Good Shepherd has been serving at the hypothermia prevention shelter this week and continues to serve a meal for the homeless twice a month, we’ve come to know a number of homeless people.

Some are veterans. Some are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Some have mental health diagnoses.

Rene is pregnant with her second child. (The names in this post have been changed for privacy.) She is due today. Hers is a pregnancy of the community. She is drawn to the front of the line for food and blankets. While others are limited to a single mattress, no one complains as two men set up her bed with four.

Oscar is a construction worker. He asks if we can place a sandwich in the refrigerator for him because he’ll miss breakfast to get to the job site at 5am. Continue reading


In Praise Of Doubt

Marcus_Borg_speaking_in_Mansfield_College_chapelThe staff and council of our congregation are heading to the mountains this weekend for the annual leadership retreat. It will be a time of team-building, prayer, and setting priorities for the coming year.

As they pack for the retreat, I’ve asked them to include something that reminds them of a person who has influenced their faith. I’m curious to learn what they’ll bring and the stories they bring to mind!

I haven’t decided what I’ll bring yet, but as I’ve been thinking about people who have influenced my faith, Marcus Borg comes to mind.

Raised a Lutheran in North Dakota, Borg became a leader in debates about the historical Jesus in the 1980’s and 90’s.  Some found his work threatening to orthodox Christianity. He dared to question deeply held beliefs such as the virgin birth and even the physical resurrection of Jesus. My copy of his book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, is filled with question marks and exclamation points in the margins.

Even though he questioned many faith claims about the historical Jesus, Borg was passionate about Jesus. He saw the Christian life as a journey following after Jesus and being transformed “into the likeness of Christ.”

Borg points out that in both Greek and Latin, the word “believe” does not refer to believing in set doctrines but “to give one’s heart to.”[i] For Borg, following after Jesus meant belief in this etymological sense: to give one’s self to him, to be on the road with him, to eat at his table, to express his compassion, and to become part of his alternative community.

Marcus Borg died yesterday.  I didn’t always agree with him, but he challenged me. He gave me permission to wonder and plenty to pray about.

After hearing of his death, blogger David Haywood illustrated the gift Marcus Borg brought to the faith community well:


In Christ,

Pastor Jen

[i] Borg, Marcus, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, Harper San Francisco, c1994, p. 137.

Maybe God’s Tryin’ To Tell You Somethin’

Andrae Crouch

Andrae Crouch

Epiphany 2B: Maybe God’s Tryin’ to Tell You Somethin’

1 Samuel 3:1-20

January 18, 2015

Andrae Crouch died last week.

The gospel singer and songwriter worked with the greats:

Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Quincy Jones.

His first hit song was written when he was only 15.

He was known for a number of songs,

but one that I’ve been playing over and over again this weekend

is a song from the movie The Color Purple,

called “Maybe God’s Tryin’ to Tell You Somethin’”

I’m going to be bold this morning and ask you to turn to a neighbor

…your neighbor may be in front of you or behind you…

Turn to someone and say,

Maybe God’s Tryin’ to Tell You Somethin’”

Continue reading

Dreams Provoked

Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes

Dreams Provoked

My poetry discussion group looked at a Langston Hughes poem this week. It was the poem Harlem  which is also known as A Dream Deferred.

Harlem (or A Dream Deferred)

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over—

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

The poem inspired Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech, Lorraine Hansberry’s play, A Raisin in the Sun, and countless others.

A participant in our discussion group regularly visits with prisoners for conversations about poetry. After reading this poem with a group of them, she asked them about their dreams…and they were confused. Their concerns were not about dreams which had been deferred, but that they never had dreams at all!

Before we can be encouraged in our dreams, we need to be in a place where we can have dreams in the first place!

As I met with the PTA at Jefferson-Houston school this week, I realized that the parents, faculty and staff know this. They are creating an environment to provoke dreams!

The children at this school are starting from a difficult place. 10% of the student population is homeless. 82% of the children qualify for free or reduced lunch.

It’s hard to have a dream when you’re hungry. After the children received our congregation’s donations of food for over the winter break, the principal decided to start a food pantry in the school. Dreams provoked.

It’s hard to have a dream when you don’t feel safe around those who seek to protect you. Alexandria’s sheriff department has reached out to the school to begin regular times in which local police officers will take part in recreational activities with the children. Dreams provoked.

It’s hard to have a dream when poverty makes you appear different as a child. Teachers at the school have been partnering with the Salvation Army to provide school uniforms for children who aren’t able to afford them. Dreams provoked.

It’s hard to have a dream when you don’t have role models. Three fathers of students have started a group called, “Men Making Men,” to create a more visible presence of males at school events. Dreams provoked.

It’s hard to have a dream when you don’t know what’s possible to dream. Sixth grade students are being encouraged to become part of a new cohort of students which will be tutored and mentored in preparation for college. Dreams provoked.

Parents, faculty and staff are doing the extraordinary work of provoking dreams. Maybe on this Martin Luther King Day weekend, our responsibility as a congregation and as a community is to ensure that these children’s dreams are not left drying up, festering, crusting over, or…exploding.

In Christ,

Pastor Jen

Into The Wilderness

selmaThe Baptism of Our Lord – In The Wilderness

Mark 1:1-11

January 11, 2015

We had some cold weather this week.

Wind chills close to zero.


Schools and work delayed or cancelled.

It’s been cold.

And so I turned the heat up.

Put on an extra sweater.

Wore my hat (my mother would be pleased).

Bought some new mittens.

Whenever we have cold spells, as I bundle up and hurry to get to one warm place to another,

I wonder ‘how in the world do the homeless survive outdoors on days like today?’

…and I think about Mike.

Mike was a homeless man I came to know about 7 or 8 years ago

when I was working at a social services agency in Maryland.

He loved to talk.

So I asked him…

I asked Mike, so how is it that people survive outdoors when it gets so cold?

Continue reading

How Do We Forgive?

forgivingHow Do We Forgive?

“It seems there is no end to the creative ways we humans can find to hurt each other… There is also no end to the human capacity for healing.”

These words were written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. The commission served as a means for victims of apartheid to confront those who had committed acts of violence and injustice against them.

Tutu says that while many feared that the aftermath of freedom would result in further vengeful bloodshed, “Miraculously we chose another future. We chose forgiveness.”

In the years since the commission, Tutu has been asked over and over again in places throughout the world where there has been suffering and conflict to share his wisdom about the question, “How do we heal without further violence? How do we forgive?”

His most recent book, The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World, written with his daughter Mpho Tutu, an Episcopal priest, was written for those who are grappling with the issue of forgiveness and looking for a way to heal.

During the holy season of Lent (February 18-March 29) this year, I invite you to read the book (it’s on sale for $2.99 on Kindle right now!) and join a small discussion group for 5 weeks. It will be 5 weeks of study, conversation, and prayer about forgiveness. Friends, neighbors, and acquaintances are welcome!

Please indicate your interest at the link here:  or complete a paper copy which will be in upcoming Sunday bulletins.   Respond by February 1 so that we can coordinate places and times.

“We invite you to take this journey with us not because it will be easy, but because, in the end, the path of forgiving is the only path worth taking.”

In Christ,

Pastor Jen

Because It’s Cold Outside

snowBecause It’s Cold Outside

It’s the first snowfall of the season today.  I read an email about churches which provide emergency shelter for the homeless today.

Some say that it’s a coincidence. I consider it a call.

St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Springfield, VA provides overnight shelter to 30-35 homeless individuals for one week every year.  Every year it takes about 70 volunteers to provide meals and shelter for the week.

This year, their week is January 25-31 and we have been invited to help!

I don’t know many of the details, but if you would like to know more and may like to volunteer, please attend the training THIS Thursday, January 8, at 7pm at the church at 6320 Hanover Avenue in Springfield.

See you there! (And Blessed Epiphany!)
Pastor Jen