I arrived in Chicago yesterday.

My little condo is wonderful. It's a studio apartment with the bed tucked behind a half wall. The ceilings are high and open beamed and the coffee maker works.

Exploring my new neighborhood was the only order of business yesterday. I found the important things -

  1. An Irish pub where the Guinness wasn't rushed and the ruben was excellent.
  2. A grocery store.
The store is similar to a Whole Foods - but more expensive. I bit the bullet because it was close and I knew I would need coffee for the next morning. I purchased only the necessary supplies - coffee, milk, eggs, bacon, cucumber soda, cereal, ice cream, popcorn, fruit, salad mix, butter and coconut chips. I will admit that the coconut chips were not strictly necessary but I stand by my ice cream decision. (Did I mention there is a gym someplace in my building? I MIGHT look for it today.)

Today's plans are:
Worship God.
Continue exploring.
Buying the things I forgot to pack.(shampoo, face wash and sunblock) Having a phone meeting with my editor
Watching the USA Women's Soccer Team in the World Cup Final with 15,000 of my closest new friends at the USA Soccer sponsored viewing party in Lincoln Park.

I called home and am feeling less guilty knowing that Rob and Parker are doing well and are ready to head off to Boy Scout camp this afternoon. We'll see if the desire to constantly text them fades as the day progresses. I hope so, since there will be no cell phone service in the woods of Rhode Island.

Off to explore…

Death's timing is rarely good. Although we had been anticipating my father-in-law's death for weeks it was still painful. He insisted on no service. No prayers for the dead. No funeral. No grave. And so, with Rob's encouragement I'm keeping to my travel plans as scheduled.

This morning with much anxiety I leave for Chicago to study at Second City for three weeks.

My personal theme for the time is taken from a song by Eric Bibb called “The Cape.” -
(S)He's one of those who knows that life is just a leap of faith. Spread your arms and hold your breath and always trust your cape. “

Here is the link to the song : https://youtu.be/IIECz7Y01-U

Last night I sat in on an appointment at an attorney’s office.   I’ve been around enough to know that this should have been a straightforward meeting and a simple path forward. And it was…mostly.

Then it happened.

Apparently this particular professional considers himself not only a lawyer but also an evangelist for his church.  That was all good until I outed myself as clergy.   Then I got “that look.”  My clergy sisters know what I’m talking about.  It’s not quite a double take but neither is it a nonchalant glance.  It’s a look of puzzled judgment.  I could almost see the wheels turning. He believes women can’t be clergy – it isn’t right – and yet, I was sitting across from him. 

When he realized he let the pause linger too long he filled the silence with a generic comment.

“ I think (name of nearby town) has a girl pastor.  Do you know her?”

“Actually I do know the pastor of that church and he is a man.”

“Maybe it was (name of other town).”

“Yeah, there’s a woman there. I know of her but I don’t know her.”

“I imagined you get together will the other women pastors a lot.”

“Not really.  There’s a group of clergy I meet with. They’re all men except for me.”

“That must be awkward.”

The other person present in this meeting room didn’t seem to notice the sound of my teeth grinding together and returned the conversation to the reason we were there. 

Perhaps it just pushed my buttons but I was irked by this side conversation.  I just have a suspicion that he was imagining the local woman clergy population gathering together for a slumber party like a group of Playboy bunnies for Jesus.   

So- for my quirky way of processing this experience I give you the highlights of a:
 Clergy Woman Slumber Party.

We will, of course, wear our preaching robes over our sexiest baby-doll nighties. 

A game of Truth or Truth will be played with one person reading a parable and the rest of the women nodding our heads and agreeing that it should be taken literally.

SEXY PILLOW FIGHT!  Knock the sin out of one another.

Once we settle down into our pink sleeping bags we chat for hours about who is the cutest boy in the Bible. 

I’m done… what would you add to the party?

Sabbatical Day Three  - 
Yesterday was spent organizing and last night was spent eating tapas, drinking sangria and rocking out at a Barry Manilow concert.  (ok- rocking out might be a bit extreme for Barry- but it was a great show.) 

In my planning - today- Day 3- was going to be a nice relaxing spa day.

The Life Happens -

Parker has a half day due to finals (reschedule spa start time) 

Rob needs to take care of his dad in Billerica (So I have to attend the mandatory parent class of Drivers Education - cut time at spa short.) 

Nessie the Bad Dog vomits on the floor. (just ice.)

Still- it is sabbatical so I will slow down after the carpet cleaner dries and ponder the important stuff of life this morning - like what color I should have my nails painted. 


This was not at all how I imagined I’d begin my three-month sabbatical.  The morning started the same as usual - a slightly manic rush as my husband scrambles to catch the commuter rail and my son heads off to school.  I will admit to feeling a bit adrift with no work commitments to prepare.  I actually checked my calendar three times before 8am because I keep having that “I’ve forgotten something feeling.”   Nope- still all clear except a lunch date with a friend and an email to my scriptwriting consultant.

When I get into the car to bring my son to school the reality of the situation hit me.  I was NOT going to the church after I dropped him off.  While I was inwardly doing the Snoopy Dance of Joy, I decided to turn the car around so that he could avoid the big puddle outside the passenger side door. 


Yes, in my exuberance I slammed the Prius into the metal post of the basketball hoop.   A shower of plastic light casing bits joined the rain falling on the grass. 

Two things:

            1. I have absolutely no excuse.  I was thinking about sabbatical and not paying attention. 

            2.  Why the hell is there a basketball hoop on the edge of my driveway.  We don’t play basketball.

I hopped out of the car to investigate the damage and to loudly combine swear words in unique combinations.  This is when my son ventured out of the house.  He is sixteen – so I doubt I taught him any new language - but it was beneficial because then I had to decide if I was more embarrassed to be caught swearing or because I crashed my car into an inanimate object.  Being a brilliant young man he just got into the car without comment.  I managed to get him to school on time and in one piece.

Now I am sitting at a little independent coffee shop writing my first sabbatical blog post about how my sabbatical isn’t going at all the way I imagined it would go. 

And then realizing – that is exactly the point of this sabbatical.    

Let the adventure continue.

When I was in seminary the hot buzzword was “Authenticity.”

We discussed the authenticity of Jesus Christ.

We dissected the authenticity of the Bible.

We encourage one another to preach with an authentic voice.

I was told to always be my full authentic self – since that’s the person God called into ministry.

Here’s the thing. 

Sometimes I don’t like myself.  I would rather be somebody else.

Given this fun fact - how can I be authentically me when I’d rather be Julianne Moore or Emma Watson?

Or is this one of those chicken and egg things?

Perhaps I am being true to myself when I want to be someone else.

Doesn’t everyone have times like this?

God called me just as I am– forty-something, snarky, witty and loving – and a woman who would sometimes rather be someone else with a more (as it looks from the outside) glamorous life.   And so I minister here in this cold and snowy place to other people who also sometimes dream of being astronauts or actors, doctors or dancers, pilots or painters.  Here in this place, my authentic self (who wants to be someone else today, thank you very much) meets your authentic self (who also wants to be someone else today) and we muddle through together.

Pay no attention to my fake British accent.  It will go away soon enough. 




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I was told in 1975 that good girls in the United Methodist church did not receive ashes on Ash Wednesday.  Neither did we have to give something up for Lent.   That was something only the Roman Catholic kids did. 

The O’Leary girls gave up candy.
I ate a Marathon bar. 

The Giattano boys gave up soda.
I drank Tab.   

No limits. No restrictions. Lent was just any other series of days in the year.

I still don’t know if that was truth or just something my parents told me when I was pondering the dirty foreheads of the people I saw on Ash Wednesday.  Perhaps I was feeling left out?

In my adult life there have been years where I’ve passionately thrown myself at Lent.  I’ve given things up.  I’ve taken things on.  I’ve fasted.  And…. It never seems to work for me.

Maybe it’s because I’m not sure what’s supposed to happen from all that effort.  I never felt any closer to God when I sacrificed nor did I feel more alienated from God when I didn’t. 

So, in the words of Jerry Seinfeld, “Lent.  What’s up with that?”

Here is where I’ve landed.  (This is for today.  I might have some great insight tomorrow.)

I don’t have to “do” Lent the way everyone or anyone else does it.

My spiritual discipline is mine.

My sacrifice  - or lack there of – is mine.

My relationship with God is mine.

Good girls can get ashes if they want them but it’s not a requirement.

I’ll keep Lent this year in my fashion and pray that it strengthens my walk with Christ.  You do what you think best

If you want to talk about it, I’ll probably just be over here eating some candy with my Diet Coke. 

PS.  Feel free to find me on Facebook for my Lenten Prayer of the Day.  

Nessie the Bad Dog is my nine-year-old Soft Coated Wheaton Terrier. She has always been a little “off.” She will sidle up to a houseguest to snuggle only to growl as he pets her. Then she’ll growl when he stops.   The veterinarian we took her to as a puppy used the exact phrase, “she has a screw loose” to describe the dog.

Another one of Nessie the Bad Dog’s endearing traits is that she’s always hungry. She would counter surf a tsunami if it meant she’d end up with a tasty morsel at the end.  Her insatiable quest for food has landed her in all sorts of predicaments.  She’s been trapped on the dining room table, had her head caught in a too small cardboard box, made it snow brownie mix all over the kitchen and once even ate all of my son’s foil wrapped Easter candy when she was alone between the sunrise and the 10 o’clock services.  That made for further entrainment as all of her bowl movements for the next week came out like cast-off disco balls from a Lady GaGa tour.  This cranky, hungry, often stinky, ball of fluff ad teeth is yet another of my crosses to bear. 

I wonder about this odd creature that shares my home.  Could she ever be content?  It seems no matter what she has scarfed down from the counter or stolen off the table or nicked out of the garbage, she is always looking for more and more.  I don’t think there would ever be an “enough” for Nessie. 

Growls if you pet her- Growls if you stop.

This morning I managed to spill a vast amount of hot coffee all over my winter coat. The travel lid was not secured properly and so while I was trying to sip it like a lady- it was flowing like Niagara Falls onto my suede jacket.  There was so much coffee spilt that it seeped through to my work clothes and stained the sweater I was wearing.   I growled.

I was mad at the cup. I was mad at the coffee and mostly mad at myself. I didn’t need that cup of coffee. I’m really not even sure why I felt to need to make it for myself and bring it into the car with me. I was content. I was caffeinated.  And then I wanted MORE and so was baptized in French roast.

I don’t know why I didn’t listen to myself.  If I had listened to that inner voice, I would have known that “enough” point with the coffee  had been passed.  If I listened to “Enough!”  I’d have not gained those last ten pounds. I’d have stopped talking before I said that stupid thing I couldn’t take back. I’d have not purchased that “one more- had to have” thing.  

Contentment eludes me even when I know I’m content.  Like Nessie the Bad Dog I assume that there is just something MORE that I need.  MORE; even when I don’t need it. 

Perhaps I’ll stop seeking contentment when I am more content. All of this is to say that as a painfully flawed human I know I’ve got a lot in common with Nessie the Bad Dog.  We are just going to sit here and growl for a while.    

My church’s annual meeting is this Sunday so I’m prepping an appropriate sermon that walks the very fine line between prophetic word and pep talk.  The truth is- we are just fine, thank for asking. We are trying out new leadership models and new modes of mission and ministry. We are reviewing our shortcomings and celebrating our successful moments of following Jesus.  My job is at annual Meeting is to pray and support the work of the Church Moderator and the lay leadership, who, in the church I serve, did some amazing work this year. Yes, the budget is still in a deficit- but so what? That’s what the endowment is for… MINISTRY.  We aren’t closing the doors – not even close.

I’m so tired of people talking about how the Church is dying.  First of all, that kind of talk implies that death’s a bad thing.  Um, hello, people of faith… remember that whole dying to eternal life thing?  Death is real, inevitable and nothing to be feared.  Next, I have served as the final pastor to a congregation that did in fact “DIE.”


We had a final service, sold the building and closed the doors – DEAD. And you know what? Death was a beautiful thing.   From that death came tendrils of resurrection that continue to bloom.  Scholarships were provided from the sale of the church building, vestments and antependium were given away and communion silver gifted into the care of another community.   The folks who worshiped at the church that died found new faith homes in surrounding communities where their gifts and talents continue to be used for the glory of God. 

So, tell me more about how the Church is dying?

Getting smaller? 


Changing dramatically?




Why are so many people making death proclamations and wailing as if there is some gigantic medieval death cart waiting to take away the bodies of the churches fallen victim to the plague of modernity.

 “Bring out your dead!”

I think they’ve forgotten that the church isn’t the building that welcomes a mere quarter of its capacity on Sunday mornings. The church isn’t the dwindling bank balance or the massive choir.  The church is the living, breathing, bitching, and moaning laughing, and singing body of Christ.  All of us together are Church.  So, the way I see it- as long as there exists even the smallest handful of Christians trying to follow Jesus then the church isn’t dying. 

Will Church look like it did in the past?

No.  Of course not, because WE are the church and we don’t look like we did in the past. (Although I’d be happy to get my 1993 body back, please and thank you.) The Church is, in the words of the great theologians, Monty Python, “Not dead yet.”  So, please stop trying to convince us that we are.

Out of respect for Islam and the millions of followers of that faith, I choose not to include any sort of representation of Mohammed on my website.  That’ s me.

My website. My choice.

I know that using an image of Mohammed is considered offensive and I choose not to do it.  Not out of fear of reprisal but out of a Christian imperative  to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Do I support free speech and the right of the Charlie Hebdo editors to have an image of the Prophet on their front cover? Yes.  And I also support the right of the Muslim community to be offended by it.  (Not to act violently on that offence- mind you – but rather to be upset and engage in non-violent acts to educate.)

Now- about Jesus.

Where to begin… There are so many images of Jesus that it boggles the mind: icons, stained glass windows, paintings, movies, statues and even toys.  I personally own a toy Jesus with “Gliding Action.” (See photo)  He hangs out on my office bookshelf with “Action Figure Moses “and a few other tchotchkes.   A few years back, I was given a toaster that imprinted an image of Jesus right onto the bread as it cooked.  A simple search of “Jesus Toys “ returns a lengthy list.

What then are we to make of these things?


My faith allows me to see these items simply as toys.  They are not “Jesus” anymore that a picture of me at my high school graduation is “Jen.”   If a floating bathtub Jesus makes you giggle– then ok.  Jesus is not the tub toy, the action figure or the dress-up paper doll.  These are silly human made things. 

For me, Jesus is bigger that any of those things because the real Jesus invites us into relationship.  I might enjoy my action figures but I don’t have a relationship with them.  Jesus calls people into community, calls us to love (even (especially?) those we don’t like) and calls us to live a life of service.   The Christ who is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8) is bigger than my action figure and any argument about the action figure.  Thanks be to God.

Now, about that tub toy… my birthday is in May….

Give me Jesus.