Every Minute of Every Day

When do you feel most productive?

There will never be another moment in which I think I’m not productive. If anything, I am prolific. My ideas about writing flow through me, and I am just standing by the river. Speaking of which, I thought of another fictional character that is just like me. Literally the spitting image. It’s Norman McClean from “A River Runs Through It.” Never have I wanted to marry a fictional character (in terms of the movie, not the person) as bad as him. Most people love Brad Pitt. I love Craig Sheffer, because he explained me to me in such a deep and profound way. Norman McClain is the Mr. Darcy of my life, because every woman I’ve ever known who reads literature has told me they pine for him on a spiritual level.

Norman’s dad was a minister, caring for people and me with a liberal perspective. He had the same idyllic childhood I did, but with the same pressures. He was also the oldest, and the bag that comes with. They literally acted out all the “my brother’s keeper” plays. Norman’s ideas, and his father’s, flowed out of them best when they were fly fishing. I chose to believe it’s because rivers talk.

The best preaching advice I’ve gotten has always come from my dad, but I had to adapt it to my own style and not his… for two reasons. The first is that I wanted to be fierce about establishing my own thing. That I was doing it because I wanted it, not because I was jumping for his approval. The second is that we couldn’t be the same preacher because my perspective was so wildly different from mine. He didn’t wrestle liberation theology to the ground like I did because he didn’t need it. He didn’t need to believe that “the cross and the lynching tree” extended to him… that I would be rescued from horrible oppression by setting my sights on the one who came to liberate me. That is very much the best of what the black church has been able to do for its people, and James Cone criticism is where I start any sermon ever. I want to take being responsible and mindful to the next level, freeing you from your bonds so that you can love yourself. That you have strength to move on, because your prayer life is telling you what to do. You can trust your intuition, because your brain will do everything it can to protect you from harm. You just won’t allow that protection in if you can’t sit with yourself long enough to contemplate letting it in.

It is when you become God, to let in that protection so your intuition is accurate. But in order to receive it, you have to look at your emotions in third person. If you don’t, ego gets in the way. You’ll just run on lizard brain because you’re surviving and not thriving. Praying is a way to clear the obstruction. In your prayer life, when you are asking God to give you relief, you find that you already have it because you prayed about it. It doesn’t matter if God is listening. What matters is whether you are.

I’ve talked a lot about God on this web site, but I rarely talk about what I believe. Here is my creed.

Heaven and hell were created to keep people in line. The resurrection could have been literal or a marketing campaign, and there’s no way to know that because there are no eyewitness accounts. The gospels were written down long after Jesus was crucified. But to take the Bible seriously is to pick up the lessons we can learn from those stories whether they’re factually accurate or not.

In my prayer life, I use a person as an image so that God feels like a literal person instead of a green screen. That was the moment I connected to David Morse’s character in Contact. Incidentally, I also loved that movie because Matthew McConaughey played me in a movie. That connection is very, very deep. My dad was Matt’s pastor and my mom was Matt’s middle school choir director. If you ask Matt’s mom, she’ll say my dad was amazing because he was the first one to pronounce their names right before she told him how…. and according to my dad, Matt’s dad was a mess, in that Texas way- completely affectionate the way good ol’ boys talk.

When we lived in Longview, I was a toddler. He wouldn’t remember me from Adam, but he’d remember my parents in a heartbeat. My mother’s favorite joke in life was “I’ve seen Matt in a bathing suit.” Then, when everyone expressed excitement, she’d say “of course, he was 12 at the time.” Sometimes I wonder what kind of interactions we had. Whether he’d ever asked to hold me or joked with me in a memory I can’t recall. That’s because if my mom went to a pool party at all, I was also there.

Swimming has always been where I experience God the most, and my dad reminded me of it the day I preached my first sermon. He said “it’s a river. When you get up there, just step into the flow.” Here’s the even bigger part. I didn’t have my cell phone on me, so he called the church. I wasn’t the one who answered it, so when I was sitting there borderline panicking because I couldn’t ask for a blessing, someone came up to me and said, “Leslie…. it’s your dad.” I’m crying right now just feeling that relief.

Some of you may not know that when I preach in person, I do a pastoral prayer before I get rolling. It’s not for them. It’s for me. I need to know that I have the confidence to lead people by being humble. That opening up won’t hurt, because I might be able to help people more than hurt. It is asking God to work through me so that hopefully, my words resonate instead of making them feel like they have to listen to me to be polite. I want to be worth their time, because nothing is more precious to me than time. To waste other people’s makes me feel terrible toward myself. Letting myself suck until I got better was a necessary evil, and I apologize for ever misstep ever made.

Here’s the most intimate moment that has ever happened to me with a parishioner. At our church, we only did communion once a month. One of the Sundays when the senior pastor was going to be out of town fell on it accidentally. Before the service, I was so nervous I could have thrown up, because I’d grown up in a church that had very strict requirements on who could and could not do communion, and the United Church of Christ doesn’t have any to my knowledge. But it didn’t matter. Someone I wasn’t close to gave me the biggest moment I think I’ve ever had.

I was on the Worship Team, and we were the people gathering before the service to make sure it was going to run smoothly. The question at hand was whether we should skip over communion, because it was already in the bulletin and I was freaking out. It was something I wanted to do because I knew I could, and knowing that it was not a moment I could take. I needed it to be given. I needed someone else to tell me I was worthy before I launched into something that shouldn’t have been done in the first place according to the tapes in my head.

I was standing next to a full length mirror when a woman came up behind me and placed a rainbow stole on my shoulders. She said I should look like a minister, but holy God. In that moment, she became my only ordination to date. It was worth getting raked over the coals by the senior minister when she got home, because I didn’t ask to do communion, I just hoped I would be allowed it. I was, because my support team said that it was more important to follow the bulletin than it was to leave something out. I had my moment not because I asked for it, but because said pastor didn’t proofread…. so she couldn’t take it away from me even if she was going to beat a dead horse for all eternity. She couldn’t steal the gift that I’d been given…. self confidence.

The United Church of Christ is not what’s called a “creedal church,” one that sets in stone what should be said for every occasion… see “Book of Common Prayer” for details. 😛 Since there wasn’t a template, the United Methodist words of institution floated off like I’d been doing it my whole life, completely comfortable in my skin because I knew I wasn’t stealing anything. I was serving everything. I held he literal body and blood of Christ in some traditions, an honorarium in others, right in my own hands. My faith allowed me the strength to believe that I was worthy enough to give people that gift of resolution and redemption that comes with believing in the risen Christ. That rainbow stole was everything when it came to believing that I was both the Moses that killed the teenager in the desert and the one that led the Canadian houseguests out of Iran. I wanted to know if I had enough strength to take on the mantle of being able to lead people rather than follow. I didn’t.

But Brenda did.

She let me know in 60 seconds that my words had value. The table had been laid. I was present in an intentional way. The river was flowing beside me, and all I had to do was step in.


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