A Very Advent Spice Rack

Last week I installed a wire spice rack on the door of our pantry. All by myself. Judging by the unimpressed looks I’m seeing, I don’t think you yet know about me that I am not particularly handy in that way. Ryan is the Mrs. Fix-It in our house. I am quite proud of my handiwork mainly because I stocked the spice rack with maybe 20 spices, opened & closed the door to the pantry many times… and guess what? That rack is still screwed in AND level!


In order for the rack to be able to hold what it needs to hold, it is supported by 4 anchors. On each corner of the wire rack is a clip & a screw to give the spice rack stability even under significant weight.


I don’t know about you, but this season of waiting, this season of Advent is weighty. Whether you are one of those people who enjoy shopping at those special year round Christmas stores in March & Christmas songs are permanently on your playlist, or you frankly feel a bit grouchy & out of sorts during this month because of grief, or stress, or difficulty with less daily sunlight, here we are. We are in this season together.


Advent is anchored by 4 Sundays including today. Sundays of considering hope, love, joy, & peace. I don’t know about you, but reflecting on these gifts feels a bit out of touch with reality. Has Advent read the headlines? Has Advent sat down to talk to real, living people? Does Advent know the real pain & struggle of each allegation, of each bombing, of each destructive new policy, of each memory of a deceased loved one, of each demand for more or better during this season of expected perfected hospitality, of each day or night of loneliness, of each overwhelming social invite?


I struggle with Advent. I struggle with Christmas. One of my favorite seasonal songs is I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, based on a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow[1]:


I heard the bells on Christmas day

Their old familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet the words repeat

Of peace on earth, good will to all…

And in despair I bowed my head:

“There is no peace on earth,” I said,

“For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good will to all.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,

With peace on earth, good will to all.”

Till, ringing, singing, on its way,

The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,

Of peace on earth, good will to all!


I love this song & poem because it describes this struggle between current reality & faith for a different, restored reality.


In 1 of our passages this morning, the Psalmist in Psalm 80 repeats the refrain, “restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved”. In this season of Advent, consider, in what areas do I need restoration? In what ways can I join God’s restorative work?


My hope & prayer for you & for us all during this season is to find resolve & restoration, & an audacious hope while simultaneously looking directly at your current individual & our current shared reality.


I hope you will find these 4 Sundays of Advent to be anchors for whatever spices this season holds for you- whether sweet spices of dill, nutmeg, sesame, or bitter spices of horseradish, bay leaf, cloves, or a combination of something in-between.


I encourage you to try something new or different during this season to add tools to your spiritual tool box & to anchor Advent, maybe even find or create some restoration. Amen.



Elevators & Staircases

Last year around Halloween Saturday Night Live featured a creepy & hilarious skit with Tom Hanks through a haunted house called Haunted Elevator. Watch the skit here. Mark, the bell hop says,”The scariest thing to the mind is the unknown.”

When Pastor Elijah & I came to Calvary in 2014 there was plenty of uncertainty about how exactly our residency would go. This theme continued, even through these days, fall 2017. Even if I had a crystal ball then, it would have been cloudy. So much has happened during my time at Calvary, much of which could not have been predicted. and much of which was honestly pretty scary and/or stressful.

Yet, here we are. We made it through!

This Sunday I look forward to giving thanks for our time together on my last Sunday with you all. More details on festivities can be found below. This Sunday we also have opportunities to remember & give thanks for saints who have gone before us, especially those saints & loved ones who have died this past year on All Saints Sunday.

If “the scariest thing to the mind is the unknown,” then death can be pretty scary. At its core, the fear of death, thanatophobia, has roots in fear of the unknown. Part of what makes grief so hard is the level of imagination required to consider what life will be like without that loved one.

Imaging life after a loved one’s death requires faith. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” When you remember a deceased loved one you might feel a little flutter in your chest kind of like when you miss a step in a staircase.

Wherever you are in your journey- concerns about your future, grieving a lost loved one whether by death or conflict, wondering where is God when you suffer, and more- ask God to guide your steps on life’s staircase as you put one foot in front of the other. If you’re not sure how, or you don’t find that type of courage within yourself, come this Sunday to borrow a little communal courage as we reflect and give thanks together as we are inspired by the saints who have gone before us.


Lord, Make Me An Instrument of Your Peace

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace

A whirring grogger silencing evil

A twinkling triangle turning from one page to the next

A vibrating gong announcing newness

A jazzy piano dancing through the night

A defiant snare drum marching forward

A strumming ukulele mellowing in simplicity

A tolling bell reminding all to give generously

A sorrowful cello making space for grief

An echoing cymbal crashing to awaken

A cow bell calling the herd homeward to have their fill

A triumphant trumpet proclaiming victory

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace

One shaky voice among a diverse choir


Upside Down; Right Side Up

For many of us, the world has never felt more upside down than it does in these days. I struggle to make sense of current events. A solar eclipse this past week felt well timed. The past 9 months or so have felt particularly upside down in our political world that impacts each person quite personally, though sometimes disproportionately.

In The Queer Bible Commentary, scholar Timothy Koch refers to Isaiah as one of the “queerest” books in the Bible because of Isaiah’s ongoing themes of unexpected and strange realities, especially “a little child will lead them” and “the wolf will lie down with the lamb” from chapter 11, and God’s declaration that God’s house that was formerly exclusive will now be “a house of prayer for all peoples” from chapter 56.

Isaiah is all about a not yet known reality. This may appear upside down and backwards from the ways we know chains of command, food chains, and self-imposed religiously based exclusivism to work.

Maybe Isaiah’s vision is not upside down. Maybe Isaiah’s vision is the world right side up- a vision of God making a new Heaven and a new Earth restored to shalom for all.

Even in these tiresome and frightening days, let us continue to find ways to partner with God in making the world a little more queer with uncommon chesed, loving-kindness, and a little more right side up with justice.

“I [God] will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters [to those who have been previously excluded]; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” -Isaiah 56:5, NRSV


art by Eric Carle

A Litany Against White Supremacy

Pastor Jennifer Preaching


As Charlottesville, VA becomes the focal point of white supremacy and those who stand against it, this litany was prepared by myself and Pastor Elizabeth Rawlings for use in worship.

Litany against white supremacy

Gracious and loving God,

In the beginning, you created humanity and declared us very good

We were made in Africa, came out of Egypt.

Our beginnings, all of our beginnings, are rooted in dark skin.

We are all siblings. We are all related.

We are all your children.

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are all your children.

Violence entered creation through Cain and Abel.

Born of jealousy, rooted in fear of scarcity,

Brother turned against brother

The soil soaked with blood, Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are our brothers keeper.

When your people cried out in slavery,

You heard them…

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Where I’m From

So, where are you from?


I am Erica, daughter of Rebecca,

granddaughter of Jimmie & Judy,

great-granddaughter of Fay & Marion.

born in Miami, Florida, raised in Houston, Texas.

My religious heritage is a recipe for disaster:

1 Cup Baptist

1 pint Mennonite

3 Tablespoons Episcopal

a sprinkling of agnostic

with an attractive garnish of Judaism

Simultaneously Enneagram 1 & 6,


pastor, partner,

writer, right-er of wrongs

vegetarian, bleeding heart,

gay, straight edge,


Texas ex-pat down with the struggle of minorities,

recovering passive aggressor,

Type A minus,



divine-bearer of Light & Good News


Wayfaring Friends- social media bilingual

Family Trees Blessing

Blessing originally given at Hyattsville Mennonite Church on Pride Sunday, June 11, 2017:

May God awaken us to the beauty of Creation-the beauty of ourselves, the beauty of our neighbors, the beauty of God itself.

May we resist apathy and falling asleep in the theater as the epic story of creation plays on. May we join God in co-creating a new heaven and a new earth. Let there be light for our paths & darkness for resting. May the sky be large enough to make you feel small. May the stars been numerous & bright enough to make you proud to share carbon with them.

May the vegetation of the earth be bountiful on your table. When you marvel at a fish or a butterfly or a dog, may remember that you too are beautifully & wonderfully made. Whatever season you find yourself in, may you know that God is with you at this very moment & that very season too.

If you wonder what your life is worth, may remember that you were made in God’s image-mysterious, complex, lovely, and created for community and co-creating.

May you live well & rest well. May we always remember one of our purposes is to be a good neighbor, to more deeply and widely love our relatives on the family tree of creation. Amen.


Mother’s Day Prayer

Originally given during the service on Sunday, May 14, at Calvary Baptist Church, Washington, D.C.


O, God, today we grieve with motherless children of all ages & childless mothers of all vocations. We grieve with families who have lost loved ones & for whom this day is particularly painful reminder of that loss. Today we resist the religiously abusive teachings that suggest a woman is worth what her womb produces. We give thanks for families- biological, adopted, chosen, & otherwise.


We give thanks for the women of our tradition who guide us with their wisdom- Mother Eve, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Leah, Miriam, Deborah, Esther, Mary, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Phoebe, & even those women who are unnamed, but whose stories we cherish close to heart.


We give thanks for the women of history who inspire us in their courage- Mother Perpetua & Felicity, Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, Katherine von Bora, Julian of Norwich, Sojourner Truth, Mother Teresa, Sofia Mendoza, Maya Angelou, Cheryl Branham, Sally Sarratt, Maria Swearingen.


We give thanks for the Holy Spirit who leads us with her feminine care & guidance. O God, may the Spirit blow through our lives, guiding us, loving us, comforting us, pushing us, pulling us, inspiring us, making all things renewed. Amen.



Mary, Our Mother by Angela Yarber

Gracious Inventory: Ash Wednesday Reflection

I have to be honest with you- Ash Wednesday is not my favorite service and Lent is frankly, a downer. Sure, I look good in purple and there is Easter cheese at the end of the Lenten maze. But still…

I have heard Lent described as the time of spiritual heavy lifting during the Christian liturgical year. Heavy lifting? Have you ever moved or bought new furniture? There’s a reason why there are so many moving companies and moving trucks. Hauling around stuff, especially bulky stuff, is indeed exhausting work. Perhaps Lent is about examining one’s stuff.

In the popular book, Spark Joy, by Marie Kondo, the author brings ancient Japanese wisdom on minimalism in the home to contemporary readers. Maybe you have heard of it. Recently The Simpsons did a spoof episode where the family tries out the minimalist principles. Lisa ended up getting rid of her prized saxophone. It was rough to watch, in an amusing way of course. Marie Kondo’s method can be summarized:

  • Commit yourself to tidying up
  • Imagine your ideal lifestyle
  • Finish discarding first
  • Tidy by category, not by location
  • Follow the right order
  • Ask yourself if the item sparks joy

I will confess that I do experience joy when space is clutter-free. There is value in taking a long hard look at how much we consume and then readjusting in order to minimize one’s footprint. It can be a healthy practice to have seasons in the year and in life- lean times & feasting times. It can be liberating to take a personal inventory. What areas am I doing well in? What areas can I do better in? When am I most experiencing God? When do I struggle to experience God?

A lot of people think of Lent as a time to reduce stuff & to clear out clutter sometimes literally, but most often metaphorically. A lot of people think of Lent as a time to test self control- with enough grit & determination I will completely ban chocolate or television or social media or alcohol or complaining or clutter. If Lent is reduced to what to do & what not to do, we miss potential depths of the season.

Allow me to begin with what Lent is not:

  • Lent is not a time to punish yourself. While it is true that we are all imperfect, God does not desire self-punishment or self-loathing.
  • Lent is not a religiously sanctioned time to try out a crash diet. Focus on health is usually a good thing, but self-loathing or unhealthy restrictions is damaging. How does dishonoring one’s body honor the incarnate Christ?
  • Lenten is not a time for practices approached like a religious new year’s resolution. There is a dismally low average rate of sticking with new year’s resolutions anyway & Lent isn’t about goals, it’s about focus.
  • Lent is not an opportunity to humble brag about piety.
    • Matthew 6:1- “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

 What then is Lent?

  • Logistically, Lent is a 6 week time of preparation for Easter.
  • Lent is the mirroring of Jesus’ 40 days of fasting in the desert as he began stepping in to his greatest purposes.
    • Writer & theologian, Frederick Buechner, writes, “After being baptized by John in the river Jordan, Jesus went off alone into the wilderness where he spent 40 days asking himself the question what it meant to be Jesus. During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves.”
  • Lent is a time of deeper fellowship with Christians of many denominations and traditions around the world & even across time.
  • Lent is a time of individual and shared lament. This season puts the “Lent” in lament. These days there is no shortage of situations, laws, injustices, abuses, hurts, and loss to grieve and lament.
  • Finally, Lent is grace.

In our passage this evening, Psalm 51, David expresses deep regret and begs for God’s mercy after the prophet Nathan convicts him about his sins of adultery and murder. You may or may not be guilty of adultery or murder, but surely you are familiar with regret. Have you ever regretted something you did or didn’t do?

The book of Psalms is timeless largely in part because it includes a full range of human experience and emotion. Psalm 51 can be a model for Lenten practice:

  • Appeal to divine mercy
  • Confession of sin
  • Cleansing & renewal
  • A vow with thanksgiving

Today, Ash Wednesday, we do all 4 of these rapid fire, as an overview of the season. Today in particular we remember our sins & confess them to God. That’s kind of the easy part. Throughout the season of Lent may we actively seek to make right broken relationships. Sin doesn’t separate us from God because God is always with us, but sin does distort our image and understanding and experience of God and sin does our image and understanding and experience of ourselves and other people.

Sin is like acid rain wearing us down. May we alternatively be renewed in the life giving waters of God’s grace and perhaps even grace for ourselves. Sin is not a surface wound. May we dig deep together as we examine our stuff, clear out the clutter of our lives, accept God’s grace, & actively make right our relationships.

O, God, “Create in us clean hearts, put new and right spirits within us. Restore to us the joy of your salvation, and sustain in us a willing spirit. Deliver us, O God of our salvation, and we will sing aloud of your deliverance.” Amen.


A Charge for the New Tasks & New Year at Hand

Yesterday I had the privilege of offering the benediction at the conclusion of the Council of the District of Columbia swearing in ceremony. I offered these words as a charge for the new tasks & new year at hand:


Mayor Bowser, Council Members, Commissioners, honored guests, & all of you here:


If you are able, I invite you to take the hand of the person next to you or touch their shoulder.


-May the human bond between us guide you as you make decisions that will impact DC residents & beyond.

-May the Inner Light guide you as you seek to better the world by bettering DC.

-May the Inner Light empower you to lead faithfully & make wise decisions based on justice, mercy, & love above personal convenience.

-May you promote an agenda of peacebuilding & cooperation, especially with people you don’t like.

-May you tend to your holistic wellness- mind, body, & spirit- as intently as you tend to your civic & professional responsibilities.

-May we the people, all people, come together in harmony to form a more perfect union.

-May God bless you & keep you. May God’s face shine upon you. May God be gracious to you & give you peace.


Shalom, Salaam, Peace to all.



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