Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas



We wish God's blessings upon you and we pray for peace for a weary world.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Do the Same This Christmas Lord


When the world was dark
and the city was quiet,
you came.



You crept in beside us.



And no one knew.
Only the few who dared to believe
that God might do something different.



Will you do the same this Christmas, Lord?



Will you come into the darkness of tonight's world;
not the friendly darkness
as when sleep rescues us from tiredness,
but the fearful darkness,in which people have stopped believing
that war will end
or that food will come
or that a government will change
or that the Church cares?



Will you come into that darkness
and do something different
to save your people from death and despair?



Will you come into the quietness of this town,
not the friendly quietness
as when lovers hold hands,
but the fearful silence when the phone has not rung
the letter has not come,
the friendly voice no longer speaks,
the doctor's face says it all?



Will you come into that darkness,
and do something different,
not to distract, but to embrace your people?


And will you come into the dark corners
and the quiet places of our lives?



We ask this not because we are guilt-ridden
or want to be,
but because the fullness our lives long for
depends upon us being as open and vulnerable to you
as you were to us,when you came,
wearing no more than diapers,
and trusting human hands
to hold their maker.



Will you come into our lives,
if we open them to you
and do something different?


When the world was dark
and the city was quiet
you came.



You crept in beside us.



Do the same this Christmas, Lord.


Do the same this Christmas.


Amen.

This was posted at Gannet Girl's site, and it just spoke to me.

The Magic of Secret Santas


I recently learned in the news about the legacy of Larry Stewart, who is now deceased, but beofre his death spent fifteen years as Secret Santa. His work, detailed below, lives on.

Susan Dahl had spent four months homeless in Colorado and just been on a harrowing 10-hour bus trip through sleet and snow. Hungry and broke, all she wanted to do was get back to family in Minnesota.

That's when a tall man in a red coat and red hat sat next to her at the downtown bus station, talked to her quietly and then slipped her $100 on that recent December afternoon.

The man was doing the work of Larry Stewart, Kansas City's original Secret Santa who anonymously wandered city streets doling out $100 bills to anyone who looked like they needed it. Stewart died of cancer at age 58 earlier this year, but his legacy lives on.

"He said `Here's a $100 bill ... and this is in memory of Larry Stewart,'" said Dahl, 56.

During about a quarter century, Stewart quietly gave out more than $1.3 million to people in laundromats, diners, bus stations, shelters and thrift stores, saying it was his way of giving back at Christmas for all the wealth and generosity he had received in his lifetime.

For years, Stewart did not want his name known or want thanks or applause, but last December he acknowledged who he was and used his last few months while battling cancer to press his message of kindness toward others. He even trained some friends in the ways of Secret Santa.

This Christmas, a friend who told Stewart in the hospital that he would carry on for him is out on the streets, handing out $100 bills, each one stamped with "Larry Stewart, Secret Santa."

Between Kansas City and several other cities this Christmas, the new Secret Santa will give away $75,000 of his own money, mostly in $100 bills.

"I didn't want to be a Secret Santa," said the man, a business consultant who lives in the Kansas City area. "I wanted to give Larry money. But last year, he said I had to hand it out myself. So I did, and I got hooked."

This new Secret Santa talks about Larry Stewart to just about everyone he encounters. "Have you ever heard of a man named Larry Stewart?" he asks before handing out $100 or more.

Depending on who he's talking to, the new Secret Santa might say Stewart was a man who believed in making people happy by giving them money they didn't have to ask for, apply for or wait in line for.

"There was this fella named Larry Stewart," he tells a man in the bus station. "He was an old friend of mine. He was called Secret Santa, and every year he would find a few people who might need a little money and he would ask that you pass on the kindness."

People respond differently to the gesture. Some cry. Some scream. A rare few even say "No thanks."

Others take the money and offer their own gifts. like Robert Young, who was homeless and had only 20 cents in his pocket. When Secret Santa gave him $200, Young, 50, took out an old notebook and ripped out a song he had written.

"It's yours now," he told Secret Santa, who thanked Young, and carefully tucked the pages into his pocket.

The new Secret Santa has also started a Web site, and is trying to recruit other Secret Santas across the country. "Larry's dream was for a Secret Santa in every city," Kansas City's Santa said.

There are now a couple apprentices, with more candidates turning up all the time. But, he says, you don't have to be willing to hand out money to be a Secret Santa.

"Anyone can be a Secret Santa," he says. "You don't have to give away $100. You can give away kindness. Help someone." To learn more, or to be a part of the Secret Santa network, you may go this link.

http://www.secretsantaworld.net/society_of_secret_santas_

But why stop at Christmas? You can give away kindness and help at any time of the year. This is the example of Christ.

Friday, December 14, 2007

What is it that we are waiting for?


This is a season of the year when there is a palpable energy among people who are eagerly awaiting really big things. For the very young, there is the interminable amount of time that still must pass until Santa comes, which in our church is mirrored by the "Get Ready, Jesus is Coming" theme. Our annual holiday Mission Fair was again huge success, with a throng in the church basement social room scooping up yummy Divine chocolate, LWR fair trade coffee, tea and cocoa, and fair trade crafts for gifts that they cannot wait to bestow on loved ones. There was a surprise visit by St. Nicholas, who distributed chocolate gold coins and candy canes while little hands industriously made gift bags for gifts lovingly, if chaotically selected for their families. And the ELCA Good Gifts table had a banner year as well. I bought my mother a goat and secured the "I've got your goat" card to send. And outside the church is the creche with close to life sized figures ( but not Baby Jesus yet!)and a large sign that proclaims, "Prepare for His Coming!" which is set up each year by our Men's Group. And this week the Chrismon trees will appear and we light my favorite candle, the pink one.

At home, now that all of my tests and papers are done ( brief moment of rejoicing),cookie baking has begun in earnest, and cards are flying out the door, because it all must be done! We are all, I think, carefully marking off the things that make for what we call "the holiday season."

What if ... Jesus came today?
Before our Christmas. Before we knew what we got in the work gift exchange. Before we got to do all of things we think we must to feel fulfilled?
I wonder if any of us, myself included, would be tempted to say, "can you come back a little later?" Michael W. Smith's Christmas song, "Welcome to our World" states it well," Hope that you don't mind our manger, how I wish we would have known.."

Two events are weighing upon my mind this season. My friend with cancer, who I have blogged about before, has received good news, and not good news. The good news is the tumor in her liver is gone and the tumor in her breast is smaller! The bad news is that they think the cancer has moved into bone. Instead of sinking into despondency, my friend is an example of how illness has given her greater clarity and purpose and unbounding faith. There is an intensity of purpose. Why is it that usually it is only when we think time is of the essence that we do the things we are created to do- to love deeply, to share meaningfully? Sometime ago, I had given her the book Praying with Cancer. She recently mailed me a page in which the author talked about how cancer was in one sense, a gift, because it brought her closer to God. My friend is going to get everything out of life until it is pried out of her hands, but she is ready to go. If Jesus came today, she has her party hat- she is ready.

Then there is my cousin, who died this week. At the age of 41, leaving a husband and three children. And there are those who say how tragic it is that she died "just before Christmas." Does mourning have a season from which we should be exempt? The truth is, my cousin was an alcoholic. For many years now, there have been hospital visits, and downhill slides, and starts in rehab, and failures. And children whose hearts have been broken, and a husband who wonders where the woman he married went. We were a contrast, she and I. Growing up in the 1970's, I envied her- she could get her hair to do the "Farrah Flip." From a wealthy family, she got to go see Peter Frampton live! She married her high school sweetheart. She got everything she wanted. What happened? She once said that getting everything she thought she wanted just didn't turn out the way she thought it would. Family tried everything they knew to avoid this week- everything but God. Christmas was the time to get all of the stuff you just had to have. If Jesus came today, he must be looking for someone else. Somewhere after baptism in 1967, there was nothing to wait for.

This past week, as I was studying for the last exam, I was searching for comfort food, and was feeling neglectful of my family, and decided that if I could spare 15 minutes, I could get a loaf of bread going in the bread machine. That night, my family, who had been feeling the coldness of my preoccupation with school, sat down to dinner of soup and salad with homemade bread! There were happy faces not just because the bread was so delectable, but that it was symbolic of our love for each other. I had thought of them, and I was taking a break from the slog, and they were telling me of their day, in animated ways- we had all emerged from our routine existence to laugh, and joke and share in a meal and prayer.



Magazines and ads exhort us to get everything on our lists, see everywhere we want to see, experience everything on top 10, top 100 charts. And if we don't, will our lives be unfulfilled? Will they fail to have meaning because they are incomplete? Will we be judged on whether we "did Christmas" or any other aspect of our material lives correctly? A simple meal and a prayer. Something that can happen anytime. Not something we do once a year to show we care. Not something that is on a magazine list. Not something that should wait until we are ready. Jesus burst into our midst, not in a flashy show, but in a simple, humble existence. Breaking bread and sharing a meal. Not when we were ready or worthy, but when it was so desperately needed. Not in a one-time performance, but for an eternity of love, grace, mercy and forgiveness.

Will we tell Jesus to come back a little later, when we are ready? Let's hope not. And let's not delay in sharing what we are created to share- love for one another- NOW.

Prayer: Loving God, we rejoice that you so loved us that you did not wait until we were ready or worthy, to send your Son into our midst. We rejoice that your love for us far exceeds our ability to fathom. Help us to stop waiting for just the right time to show others we love them, and to tell them of your unending love for us all. Come Lord Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel



Saw this over at RevGals BlogPals and decided to share it here.
Lord, help us to remember that as we engage in the busy-ness of this season, and all of our stuff, that there are many who long for the most basic of needs. Help us be mindful of the purpose for which we are created- to care for the poor, the oppressed, the imprisoned, and those whom our world of busy-ness and stuff have left behind. We await the day when we will all share equally in your heavenly feast, when you will wipe away every tear. Amen

St Nicholas Day



In fourth-century Turkey there was a generous bishop by the name of St. Nicholas, now considered to be the patron saint, or protector, of children. St Nicholas was born in 280 AD, in Patara, a city of Lycia, in Asia Minor. He became the gift giver of Myra. His gifts were given late at night, so that the gift giver's identity would remain a secret. St Nicholas was eventually named the patron saint of children. Early in the Advent season some celebrate a feast that has been popular for centuries in Christian countries, especially in Northern Europe. In our over-commercialized society, this holiday gives us a good "teaching moment" to remind children that Jolly Santa Claus, is, in fact, Saint Nicholas, a fourth century bishop of the city of Myra in what is now Turkey.


     Saint Nicholas was renowned for his great kindness and his generous aid to those in distress. Traditional celebrations of Saint Nicholas Day in Northern Europe included gifts left in children's shoes (the origin of our American Christmas stockings). Good children receive treats - candies, cookies, apples and nuts, while naughty children receive lumps of coal. Sometimes coins were left in the shoes, reminiscent of the life-saving dowries the saint provided. Today - especially in families of German extraction - children still put a shoe outside their bedroom doors on the eve of Saint Nicholas Day, and expect to find candy and coins or small gifts in their shoe on December 6th.

    In the spirit of St Nicholas, we honored the day by observing the tradition. Childrens' shoes were placed outside their doors before they went to bed. St Nicholas stopped by before dawn to leave a gift. May we encourage our children to follow the example of St Nicholas and make gifts for the special people in their lives or to give them whatever help they need.

Just as we can await the arrival of "Saint Nick", may we be ready to receive Christ, when he comes in glory and to share in the banquet of heaven, where he lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Prosperity Gospel and the IRS


Questions Surround TV Preacher Inquiry
2007-12-04 07:05:07
By RACHEL ZOLL AP Religion Writer



Among the many conservative Christians who feel misunderstood by the general public, the six televangelists under investigation by a Senate committee are an embarrassment.

The ministers' on-air faith healings and fundraising, backed by self-serving misinterpretations of Scripture, reinforce offensive stereotypes of greedy preachers and put their followers at spiritual risk, critics say.

But traditional Christians aren't universally celebrating the inquiry. Some are wondering whether the investigation led by Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa is the right way to end any wrongdoing, especially if the result is more government oversight of all ministries.

"We're not representing any of the parties involved, but when I see a senator charging into organizations, wielding this kind of budget ax and laying bare religious figures and expenditures, huge constitutional questions are being raised," said Gary McCaleb, senior counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund, a religious liberty legal group founded by James Dobson of Focus on the Family and other influential evangelicals.

Craig Parshall, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Religious Broadcasters, a trade association, said the questions that Grassley sent the six ministries about their finances were too broad. None of the televangelists is a member of the NRB.

"We don't have any inside information of the financial workings of the six ministries involved," Parshall said. "What we're concerned about is the future of Christian broadcasting and Christian ministries — nonprofit ones — if this inquiry is either broadened or ratcheted up and hearings are held and new legislation is considered."

Grassley, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, has asked the ministries to submit records by Thursday on compensation, board oversight and perks — from oceanside homes and expensive furniture to flights on private jets. IRS rules for nonprofits prevent pastors and other insiders from excessive personal gain through their tax-exempt work. Even so, the groups are not legally required to disclose financial information to the Senate.

The ministries under review include Randy and Paula White of Without Walls International Church and Paula White Ministries of Tampa, Fla.; Benny Hinn of World Healing Center Church Inc. and Benny Hinn Ministries of Grapevine, Texas; David and Joyce Meyer of Joyce Meyer Ministries of Fenton, Mo.; Kenneth and Gloria Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries of Newark, Texas; Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and Bishop Eddie Long Ministries of Lithonia, Ga.; and Creflo and Taffi Dollar of World Changers Church International and Creflo Dollar Ministries of College Park, Ga.

All the ministries preach a form of Word of Faith theology, known as prosperity gospel, which effectively teaches that God wants believers to be rich. The ministries have said separately that they are committed to following the tax laws, but it is not known whether they will all comply with Grassley's request by the deadline.

"This has nothing to do with church doctrine," said Grassley, who has been investigating nonprofit compliance with the tax code for years. "This has everything to do the with tax exemption of an organization."

But Grassley irked some religious leaders when he quipped about the lifestyles of the preachers under investigation, saying Jesus road into Jerusalem on a donkey, not a Rolls Royce.

J. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty in Washington, said he believes Grassley has "the best of motives," but his donkey comment gave the impression that the inquiry pits one religious view against another.

"They're supposed to enforce the law evenhandedly without regard at all to religious expression," Walker said. "There is a fear of government theologizing and government overreacting to isolated problems."

Conservative Christians have worked hard for years to avoid this exact type of inquiry. In the late 1970s, then-Sen. Mark Hatfield of Oregon told influential Christians that they should create a voluntary financial watchdog agency to keep the government largely out of their work.

The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability was formed in 1979, requiring its members to fully disclose their finances to donors. None of the six televangelists belongs to the group, according to its president, Kenneth Behr.

Pentecostal leaders and defenders of Christian orthodoxy have also challenged the TV preachers about their lifestyles or beliefs.

Hank Hanegraaff, president of the Christian Research Institute, an evangelical apologetics group in Charlotte, N.C., has written and spoken extensively for more than a decade about what he considers the dangers of teachings by Hinn, Meyer, Dollar and others.

But even he says he has concerns about the impact of the Grassley investigation.

"I can assure you," said Walker, of the Baptist Joint Committee, "that people are watching this very closely."

———

On the Net:

Grassley's Senate Finance Committee page:

finance.senate.gov/sitepages/grassley.htm


Trading on Christ???

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Happy New Year!


Well, today is the first Sunday of Advent and we are getting ready to do our at-home Advent devotions. The wreath is ready and so are our Divine Chocolate Advent Calendars. In my teaching parish, today, I distributed these advent calendars during the children's sermon. Behind each window is a part of the story of the birth of Jesus and a yummy Divine chocolate heart. We spent a moment talking about how the chocolate was one way that families can earn the money they should for the crops they grow. Several of the adults were trying to be "kids" just to get a calendar.
Today was also my last Sunday in the parish until February because of finals and a January term project. I just finished my reflection on the core convictions of the congregation and their theology for my Teaching Parish seminar.
These are good people, but they are a stuck people. Change is not just a challenge, it is almost insurmountable. There is a lot that is lifeless and methodical.It can feel like a seminar about God rather than a place where God is. There is not energy for ministry or mission here. Stuck in time.I have contemplated how the historic tensions have affected the view today and how the group is in many ways closed off. Wonderful people who have somehow lost their way.I have prayed about them, that something might be stirred.
So last week, as Fellowship was drawing to a close, there were about 8 members who were still sitting and chatting with me- all people who did not grow up in this parish; people who have come here within the last 5 to 20 years. They were chatting about the upcoming annual congregation meeting, worried about the fact that the budget for the year has not been met. They worried about attracting more members and more families. I was asked if my home parish struggled with these issues. For the next 35 minutes we had a candid sharing about being a welcoming place, discipleship and the various reasons why many parishes struggle with these issues. We talked about the difficulties in encouraging growth in stewardship and in drawing others to the congregation and the faith. We talked about the gifts different members might have and how often people struggle with identity. Each shared that when the congregation was in transition, people rolled up sleeves and did what needed to be done; how they did a building project “without a pastor”; how there had been energy, but now that there was a pastor, people just kind of left the work to the pastor.
They commented on how hard is to do the work of the church without a lot of help. And a comment I have heard before- "We used to sing, but we don't now- I don't know why. I think we should know why." I asked if they had considered that a pastor could feel the same way.
We discussed how congregations can share struggles, but also ideas- we are not alone in this. Not only there eight people who feel a tug to seek more, there is the presence of the Spirit to guide and sustain this work. Dialogue led to “more questions than answers, ” but also a desire to explore further. Anthony Robinson indicates in the closing lines of his book, What's Theology Got to Do With It?, states“ … teaching will be in the midst of the life of the congregation and its people. This does not mean always having the answers; indeed it may mean having the question. It does mean putting the little dramas of life in community and our lives individually into the context of the great story of God’s redeeming and relentless love and purpose. It means taking connections between God’s story and our stories, because in reality they are not two different stories, but one story.” Perhaps this is an opportunity in response to prayer that will bear fruit.
So I spent a couple of minutes during parish announcements today thanking all of them for welcoming me into their midst and for sharing with me what it means to be God's people here in this place and time. After a little humor and telling them I will continue to hold them in prayer and blessings for them, it seemed important to leave something else to think about. I encouraged them in this "new" year of the church to ponder anew. What does it mean to know God's message of grace, mercy and forgiveness and how can I share that message with someone who desperately needs to hear it?
We all know people who yearn for this news- how can we in our own ways tell the story?
These questions are universal for all of us. May we toss them around in our heads, ponder them in our hearts, listen for God.
The church was packed today. There was a buzz in the air. Many people were wearing their advent blue. Fellowship and the Advent craft were aglow with cheerful souls today. There were lots of hugs and best wishes for my exams, and genuine expressions of how I will be missed by them. There is an eagerness for me to return. Give my family their best wishes ( easier since last Sunday I brought the whole family to worship).
Amidst all of the festivity of the day was the common refrain- they really liked what I had to say about telling the story. They know they need to hear this and do this and they want to I look forward to coming back in February to continuing the journey with them.
I leave you today with the ELCA World Hunger Calendar thought for the day, and a prayer from our Seminary devotions by Dr. Mark Vitalis-Hoffman.

Each day collect change for World Hunger. Do you have an Advent wreath? If so, give 25 cents; if not, give 50 cents.

Gracious Lord, grant us to walk in your light! Teach us to know your ways and walk in your paths. Guide us so that we make right judgments that reflect your will for us and for all peoples. Help us especially to know and pursue the ways that make for peace. Gracious Lord, grant us to walk in your light! Amen

Friday, November 30, 2007

My Christmas 3 x 3-Thanks for the study break, Coach!


Tagged by Coach, at Prepare Ye, and even though I do not "Christmas" until Advent, here's my Christmas 3 x 3:
What are your three favorite Christmas songs & who sings them?
O Holy Night- growing up we had an alto singer who sang this as a solo from the balcony, at the Christmas Eve service. Think candles, and peacefulness and an ethereal voice floating in from on high... still gives me goosebumps.

Silent Night- Again, ever since I was little, it is the first carol I remember learning back when I was in kindergarten- I thought it was "round john virgin"- that's why I had to come to seminary- to get the real answer.;)

Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree- Have a Happy Holiday!( but a close second is I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus- you can tell I was little in the 60's)

What are your three favorite "Christmas" foods? You know, the stuff you only get around Christmas or the holidays.
Ambrosia- part of my Southern roots. Oranges, apples, pineapple,coconut, honey and rum- no marshmallows. Yum!

Sandtarts- Just a little brown on the edges with walnut and cinnamon sugar on top. We make them as a family.

Eggnog-How much nog is in eggnog?

What are your three Christmas secrets?
I recycle gift bags- years ago there was a Christmas that lots of festive gift bags showed up holding gifts we four got, and the following year, I recycled them. After initially frowning, my in-laws now keep track of who has the favorite Santa bag.

I actually like fruitcake

Every year something gets lost at Christmas- one year, it was the Baby Jesus for the nativity ( since we do not put Jesus in the stable until the "proper" time) . I thought the dog ate him. One year, my 3 year old decorated the Christmas tree with my car keys. Bright, shiny, with a convenient hanging hook. They landed on the back side of the tree and were not found until Epiphany.

SO, there you have it. I tag Diane, at Faith in Community and Gannet Girl ( I know it's finals, but come out and play!)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The World Needs You



My Advent focus is the ELCA World hunger appeal concern. Below is the link to a 40 day calendar which you can use with your family or your church.


http://lss-elca.org/Home/Images/AdventCalendar.pdf

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Love One Another

As many are out and about traveling in the bustle of the holiday and the frenzy of shopping and visiting, I offer this prayer from the Church Of Scotland "Pray Now" initiative.

Prayer
On pavements packed with pushing people,
In cities that never sleep,
In the roar of traffic and the glare of lights,
You speak...
Love one another.

Among the streetwise and the tourists,
Between the natives and the immigrants,
Inside the shops and the restaurants,
You speak...
Love one another.

In the crowded square and the darkened alley,
In the gorgeous galleries and the dirty gutters,
In the noise of so many different languages,
You speak...
Love one another.

God of love,
In the honesty of labour and in the creativity of the Arts,
In the gathering of the nations and in integrated community
May we speak love, to one another.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Starting "Christmas"

As many of you know, I commute to seminary and hence have lots of time to listen to the radio, books on tape, XM, etc. I have discovered that until a certain point in my commute, I must listen to the local FM station that has the best Traffax report so I know what might lie ahead. This also subjects me to sometimes amusing and often banal "morning drive time" DJ banter. Each morning, there is a question that people can call in and respond to. On Friday, here is what went down:

A local woman, who "loves Christmas" had put up all of her Christmas decorations outside, which apparently involved a lot of electricity and a lot of "stuff." Keep in mind that we have only just observed Veterans Day. Overnight, someone came and took her stuff and left a note telling her that the theft was in punishment for decorating too soon. Lots of behavior to consider.
So .. the morning question was essentially, don't people have to right to "start" Christmas whenever they want?
After all the economy and the world news are a real downer and we " need a little Christmas." This spawned a litany of people who all started calling in talking about their decorations and how important they are to them and a kind of pact to call all of their friends and all decorate NOW to assert their right to "Christmas" whenever they want it.
Did anyone call in to suggest the real meaning of Christmas? NO
Did anyone know the basis of the tradition for lights? NO
Don't even ask is the word "Advent" or "Christ" came up.
The closest anyone got to stating that things might be more than a little off kilter was one person who espoused the rule: No Christmas until after Thanksgiving.
Heavy SIGH.
I think that people are right, that the economy is a downer, that the war and world politics can be depressing and worrisome.
We DO need a good word.
But for all of the lights and inflatables and other "stuff" I think it is fair to say that there is no good word found within them.
Would that we would fight for the right to claim and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.
But I guess there is still no room for Jesus - in the aisle at WalMart.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Ten Random Things


I've been tagged by fellow seminarian, David at Here I Stand to post Ten Random Things About myself. These are not necessarily in the order of priority, importance or general amusement value, but, here goes:

10. I am not able to get through a day without chocolate. It can be any kind, but unlike many people I know, I actually like the kind that have the cream center- raspberry is my favorite, followed by orange. My favorite feel good kind is Divine Chocolate. Yummy and socially responsible.
9. I own too many black clothing items ( hence I went to seminary). Probably every length of skirts, pants, and type of footwear in black can be found in my closet, which leads to my next thing.
8. I am uncapable of keeping an organized closet or desk. Open a drawer or door at your peril. The other day the dog was attacked by an avalanche of sweaters. I am a packrat. I save things just in case they have a future use. Invariably they will, but I may not remember where it is stashed.
7.
Remember the Thompson Twins? I love 80's music- of all genres. We sit around and crank the volume. Sadly we have ruined our children. However, I am a musical mutt- really anything except country or violent rap is fair game- for cranking purposes, really good organ music- Vidor's Toccata comes to mind.
6. I cannot kill anything including moths, lost ladybugs, or any other bug. I also save wayward rodents or bats and usher them outside ( even though I guess they will just come back).
5. The places I wish I could travel to are: The Holy Land; Germany; New Zealand and a safari in Africa ( no gun- just a camera).
4. The hobby I wish I had time for is photography, but becoming a better writer is up there.
3. Watching the little kids carry out the Baby Jesus to the manger while we sing Silent Night on Christmas Eve in the candlelit sanctuary makes me cry.
2. My pet peeve is injustice- people disrespecting others in all forms.
1. The thing I miss most about my daughters being older is how cool it is to hold a snuggling baby.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Change of Seasons


After a long spate of unseasonable warm weather farther into what I consider fall, it is now officially and definitively, autumnal. And as usual, we are overdue for taking in all of the porch things for the winter because "you just never know" it could still be nice another day. As much as I love fall, I am always a little wistful about the end of summer because the combination of "the school year" and being inside more, and not being able to pad around the property barefoot is an adjustment to the system.
This year, with the advent of my seminary education, the change of seasons has meant something even more pronounced. This morning, as I lumbered around the kitchen waiting for the coffee to kick in, my Beloved came in hoping that today was the day I would make pancakes. He is the perky morning person that I am not. ( I actually have a coffee mug that says "Attention morning people, be perky at your peril." )
I was actually not thinking of making pancakes, after another late night of high school football. ( The good news is that we have made the playoffs; the bad news is it is now cold, and last night rainy).
But here is the eager pancake person, and what was the last thing I did that reflected more than just trying to get through the balance of the week of school, teaching parish, marching band, and music lessons? When did my seasons change?
So, as I made the pancakes, I remembered that I used to make baked goods each week for our church fellowship- baking has a therapeutic quality for me. And I notice that my baking powder is now past its date, and there is a fine layer of dust on the stand mixer. And the bread machine? Lonely and untouched since August. I have shelves of cookbooks and always collected recipes to try, jamming them into the leaves of other cookbooks so that when you open the book, they flitter out like butterflies as they head to the floor. I used to be that person.
And I while I could blame the load of schoolwork, and family and parishas the exclusive reason for this change, the truth is it is more about transition.
As I continue to make the switch from prior vocation and focus to the present, there is more on the side of the scales that is "new and unknown" and less on the side of "same as it ever was." Recently Gannet Girl blogged about her health woes and the balancing act of returning to school.
For me the woe is that of redefining parts of self while desperately trying to hold on to others. I still want to be sitting on the porch in my barefeet... and yet, while this is beginning to sound like a pity party, in the midst of this, there are indescribably wonderful moments in the parish I am serving, and in school. I've been asked to do a session on the seminary radio program and I was told I presented a striking thesis in a paper on the Didache, which I view as instructive to the church as we address seekers in our midst. How to instruct others in the faith in new and engaged ways, while retaining core beliefs. Change of seasons.
Last Sunday I spent Sunday dinner in an 1800's farmhouse and learned not only all about the parish, and when the modern electrics and indoor plumbing was installed from lovely octogenarians, but about the struggles of the members and their commitment for decades to teaching the seminarians. Unless however, this parish is prepared to change seasons and invite the new, their time is limited. As I recently read in What's Theology Got To Do With It?, the failure to accept change denies God the ongoing nature of creation.
Something to ponder. God does not seek to keep the season unchanging, either outdoors, or in our lives. Stated another way, God is active in our lives bringing forth creative and redeeming work. So while I will continue to struggle with what of the old me can survive, the seasons are changing and I should give thanks for the new and challenging things I am blessed to explore.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Mini Sermon on Luke 15:11-32

As a part of our homiletical theory class, we need to deliver a 3 minute mini sermon. Comments are invited:

But now, he’s broke; credit cards are max-ed out; he’s been evicted; no wants to hire him with his criminal record; all of his “friends” have moved on; he’s HIV-positive. He dives in dumpsters for food and catches a day labor job when he can.
“Maybe my old man will put me up for awhile-I’ll see what I can get out of the family.”
This is what he thinks as he starts hitching home.
“I’ll tell him I’m sorry”
But somewhere along the way, he really believes it. Home is the one place they will still love me- even now. “Forgive me!”
His Dad gets a call from the neighbor who swears he saw the kid hitching on the Turnpike at the last interchange. And the father jumps in his car and takes off to find him. Even now- even after the son stole the family’s Social Security numbers and ran up debt.
For one simple reason he goes- compassion. Not just love, or pity. Not mere sympathy or even yearning, but deep down, melt your heart , raw emotion in your gut, in your very being- compassion. The father loses himself to compassion for this flesh of his flesh- “This is my son!”
Compassion fuels the process of restoration. The son is embraced again, not after a period of reintroduction, restitution and passing litmus tests; not after ritual purification and works of righteousness , but NOW.
The Greek word for compassion is used six times in the New Testament, each in a similar way. Compassion and healing of wounds; compassion and caring for the distressed; compassion and raising the dead.
And this son was by all rights “ dead” because of the separation. He was lost, ruined and without life. Jesus will go on in Luke Chapter 19 to state that the Son of Man has come to reclaim just such people. Not by teaching in the temple to the worthy, but by seeking out the lost, and sharing among them and living in their midst.
What of the “lost” in our world? Often they are those who have made really bad decisions; those who are hard to love or even scary to be around. But, coming back to our text, I wonder if there is a reason the parable stops short of wrapping up the story of the older brother. The one who has remained faithful in the family; who is angered by the lavish party.
It can be easy to feel like him. “Why should my money support the welfare mom who just keeps having kids?” “Why do I care about the immigrant, or any of these others?” “What is there to love about these?” “They’ve made their bed – they can lie in it!” “Let them follow the rules like I do!”
Hear again the Father: “Rejoice with me! Your brother was lost and now is found! Come to the celebration- be a part of the restoration!”
We don’t know if the older brother joins the party or not. What we do know is that God loved us and had compassion for us to the extent that the Son was sent to run out and meet us. Even though all of the “older brothers” grumbled at the ridiculousness of it all. God lost all sense and sought us out anyway. Later in the New Testament, the disciples are commissioned to carry on this ministry- seeking out the lost and proclaiming the message of grace, mercy and forgiveness. And God is seeking still.
SO who are we? Lost ones found? For sure
Angry older brothers and sisters? Let’s hope not. For just as we are beloved children of God, so are all of our lost brother and sisters. We need to ask- what kind of family does God call us to be?
AMEN

Monday, November 5, 2007

Eyes Front

I am putting together a multicultural independent study project for J-term, which I hope will take me to working at Water Street Rescue Mission about a half hour from my house. And in that half hour drive, my car will transport me from a homogenous bedroom community/small town that can still feel like 1950's America, to "the City." Having done most of my growing up in Pittsburgh, I know that "the City" is not on the scale of Pittsburgh and certainly not the size of the major US cities.
But, as far as I can tell, poverty is not exclusive. Extending across ethnic, racial and gender barriers, it robs people of their dignity.
I am finishing up exegesis on a sermon on Luke 15 for an assignment, so my focus really is on the lost. The Mission, houses men and women and children, in short and long term programs, as well as offering medical and dental clinics.
I visited their blog, http://lifeatwsrm.blogspot.com/.
One of the entries by a staff person, was entitled "Eyes Front." I lift it up to you and also lift up the work of shelter projects across our country that are in many ways the hands of God for the least and the lost.

"Did you ever walk by someone who lives on the street and look the other way, hoping they wouldn’t notice or, God forbid, speak to you? The temptation to react this way is huge, and society teaches us that this is an acceptable reaction to poverty and homelessness.

We’ve become so comfortable with poverty and homelessness that we hardly notice their end results. As a former resident of Chicago and Boston, my ability to see without noticing became finely tuned, although having this ability didn’t alleviate the nagging feeling there was more going on here than meets the eye.

I have the opportunity to interact and work with our clientele on a daily basis and I can tell you that each one of them has a life history filled with many of the same things as you and me. The biggest thing that usually separates us is a few decisions along that way the either of us could have made differently.

I recently had the privilege of having my teenage step-son (Daniel) spend a day with me at the mission. During that day, he spent several hours working with one of our clients (Don) and the two of them developed a real connection. As we were driving home that day, Daniel said to me “I really like Don. We had a great time together, he’s a great guy!” I agree; I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Don and he is a special person. The next thought that came into my head was: how would Daniel and I have reacted to Don if we’d met him on the street instead of at the Mission? It’s upsetting to me that there was a time when I would have discounted Don as a person and just walked past him while trying to avoid looking at him.

We can’t all work at a rescue mission, nor should we, but there is more you can do. I invite you to take a moment to consider your reaction to poverty and homelessness, based on only one idea: there’s a real person of God’s creation under the rags, the smell, and the dirt. It’s very likely that this person under the rags is someone that could have a real impact on Daniel, me, and you if given the chance. You don’t have to give money, cars, or even your time to our clients or those still on the streets, but I invite you to consider giving them your love, respect, and most of all, your prayers. Look them in the eye and say hello, you might be surprised at the good it does for both of you."

- Scooter Haase, Operations, WSRM

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Community




This has been a rollercoaster week at school and on the homefront.
On Monday, our football team, still undefeated, stomped the archrivals-GO BEARS!!
One more game to go to be undefeated!! Our town has become truly energized- we never have a winning season and have not beaten our rival in 27 years! Our town is galvanized into a community that suddenly remembers how great it is to all be here together. And now we have 6000 people at the football games. The secret to success is not that there are one or two standout players. The secret is that these guys are a team and play in concert with each other. It is remarkable to know that in a day and age where "it's all about me" is everywhere, these guys have learned that it really does take everyone.

On Monday night ( rained out Friday) we took our two kids and our spare teen to the game. I had to leave early to get the concession stand open ( we sell a lot of food when there are 6000 people at the game), and my 13 yr old gave me a hug, as I was leaving. Then our spare teen, D, spontaneously did the same thing. Why is this a big deal? Because she never shows affection ( Not sure she gets any at home). And since she is now at our house about half of the days of the week after school and for dinner because Mom is not around, I have mixed feelings about us being her "parent" figures.

On Tuesday, I went to school and stayed over that night because it was time for the annual attack on the Martin Luther statue located next to the Chapel. Here at LTSG,the juniors must wrest control of the statue from the middlers. In past years, as I understand it there have been water battles, people perched in trees waiting to " attack" , etc. Our class clearly outnumbers the middlers. We had a well orchestrated plan with people in camo on bikes, and waves of attack, BUT..

The middlers announced they did not want to play that way. They had a series of "quests" in mind, a la Monty Python. We were more than a little skeptical.
However, it turned out to be great fun, we met "pirates" and had to don eye patches and hats come up with a pirate song. When we did this, we got a number to remember.

Then we met the knights that say "idou" which if you have had Greek is more meaningful. We had to answer Greek questions and we got a number. Then the knights flipped the signs hanging around their necks to Hebrew and we had to answer Old Testament history questions. We got a number. It turns out the three numbers are the combination to a padlock on the statue which is wrapped in Saran wrap.
So we had to scale the statue and unlock it, and unwrap it.

Once "taken" the statue is to be dressed up. Each year the statue is dressed up to depict someone on campus. Usually a member of the faculty or the administration. BUT..
We chose to honor a person who has served our community for 40 years, and who has as crucial a role as anyone in the lives of seminarians. The head of Maintenance, Billy. I was in charge of our decorating crew and must say that it is a blessing that we all have boxes that recently held newly ordered albs, and computers, and thanks be to God for pizza boxes. With some paint, duct tape and miscellaneous items, we captured "Billy" as seen above.

I should mention that this event is in conjunction with the annual Luther Colloquy which took place Wednesday, and there were several of our Bishops from across the ELCA as well as pastors, alumni council, all " on the Ridge" for meetings and festivities. As a team, we were able to pull together our ideas, our resources and honor a great part of our community while maintaining the secrecy until the "reveal."

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, it was time for Friday football. Our last regular season game. We entered undefeated. But we had played THE really big game on Monday, and we have a few injuries, and the other team has the top two running backs in the Section. They played a really great game, a perfect game actually. So, we are no longer undefeated, but share the section crown with another team, and are headed into the playoffs. GO BEARS!
As our team leaves the field, the band kids, who have been trying really hard the whole game to keep the spirit up, stand up and cheer their team- leading the adults.

Normally as we are riding home on the bus, our band kids are wired for sound and cheering with the windows open as we enter town. They were a little down as we are getting off of the highway. One of the kids on the bus says, "But remember last year we would have killed to be 9-1. We are having a great year!" And then we see what lies ahead of us. And why I love our town which even though we are 14,000 still feels like the small town.

All of the firetrucks, with lights flashing, and horns blaring, and the police are there to escort their "winners" into town anyway. And there are people holding "You're in Bear Country" signs and the kids are cheering in the parking lot as our football team, cheerleaders and band buses pull in.

And isn't this what any community is about? Celebrating the good, and building each other up, and recognizing the dedication of others? And amidst all of the really big things we think we are about, and people who get on our nerves or let us down, remembering that a little hoot and holler can go along way. I think we all crave these connections and pray our kids remember these lessons throughout their lives.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Friday Five-Halloween


Songbird at over at RevGals posted this Friday Five, so here goes...
1. How did you celebrate this time of year when you were a child?
I did the typical 1960's trick or treat in the neighborhood in our small town in Indiana. One year there was the razor blade in apple scare which I really could not understand since we knew everyone in all of the houses. There was also a Halloween dress up party at school and one year a mom made these iced Pumpkin cookies on sticks. And it is not Halloween without the Peanuts show about the Great Pumpkin.
2. Do you and/or your family “celebrate” Halloween? Why or why not? And if you do, has it changed from what you used to do?
Our girls, the Lutheran Chicks, are now in their teens. Before this, they would get dressed up and we would take them around to the few houses in our part of town that gave out candy, and then we would drive over to the large development where their best friends lived to join the swarm of trick or treaters there. We only carve our pumpkins the day of Halloween, at dinner time and then the fun begins. We have a bat and a spider and a raven that we hang at the front door. The girls now dress up to hand out candy at our place. But we are not the people for whom Halloween decorations have become like Christmas, up for a month. With one exception each, I have always made the kids' costumes. Here is a list of some of the things they have been: a turtle, a witch, Scarlett O'Hara, Pocahontas, the Little Mermaid, Minnie Mouse, a princess, a witch, a Japanese lady, a clown, a vampiress, a cat. We like to go to the thrift shop to get pieces we can use. One year we found great sheer fabric that was orange with black glitter spider webs that made a great skirt.

2. Candy apples: Do you prefer red cinnamon or caramel covered? Or something else?
Caramel with nuts
3. Pumpkins: Do you make Jack O’ Lanterns? Any ideas of what else to do with them?
We make jack-o-lanterns and roast the seeds. I have several different seed recipes
4. Do you decorate your home for fall or Halloween? If so, what do you do? Bonus points for pictures.
Sorry no pics. We have the things I mentioned above, and usually some Indian corn. I also have a wooden painted pumpkin that is a jack o lantern on one side and plain on the other. Fall also means big pots of mums which then get planted somewhere else on the property.
5. Do you like pretending to be something different? Does a costume bring our an alternate personality? Dressing up can be a great outlet for creativity and a chance to explore.

Bonus: Share your favorite recipe for an autumn food, particularly apple or pumpkin ones.
Pumpkin Seed variations:
2c pumpkin seeds
2c sunflower seeds ( shelled)
2c dry roasted peanuts
1c raw almonds
1c raw cashews
2 T canola oil
1 packet dry ranch dresing mix
1 tsp lemon pepper
1 tsp dried dill
1/2 garlic powder

Preheat oven to 350. Mix and toss well all ingredients in a large bowl.
Put mix into shallow roasting pan and roast 45-60 minutes
stir occasionally.
Yields 16 servings

Asian Seeds

2c pumpkin seeds
2T soy sauce
1/2 powdered ginger
2tsp Splenda

Preheat oven to 350 and use same process as above for about 45 minutes.

Enjoy!


Monday, October 22, 2007

Persistence

As most of us know, the Gospel text for yesterday was about the unjust judge and the persistent widow. This post is about the living example of the persistent one in my teaching parish. There is a man who is not a member of the parish. Over the years he has been a contractor of sorts, and has done some odd jobs-type work at the parish because he knows one the members pretty well. On Thursday, I was meeting with my supervising pastor and we see this man enter the building. He is looking for the pastor, and she greets him, not recalling who he is at first- it has been a couple of years since she has seen him. He has labored breathing, and he is almost totally deaf, so their conversation is more than a little challenging.
He relates that he used to come to the parish for worship but his health makes it hard for him to attend our only service on Sunday which is at 9 am. Mornings are a struggle for him. He really wants to receive communion. He is a baptized Christian.
She tells him she does not administer communion outside of the service usually but if he can come to next Tuesday's morning prayer which is at 10 she will give him communion then. She tells him she is in the middle of a meeting now. I feel bad- there must be more to the story, but we do not hear it that day because the meeting has ended.
On Sunday, our parish has a 9 am service, followed by fellowship and Sunday school. It is now about 11:30 a.m. All of the lights are out, all of the communion ware put away. We are getting ready to leave- I have a lunch meeting with a Council member. And here is the man again.
Still laboring to breathe. He seems a little stressed out. He tried to make it to church but his lung "locked up" - is he too late for communion? I pause, wondering what will happen next- I say a prayer in my heart.
The pastor tells him to go have a seat in the sanctuary and sends her husband to turn on the lights. She decides we will commune him. We get out the elements. She consults on what aspects of the service we will say- the Creed, the Lord's Prayer and Great Thanksgiving and Words of Institution. We go into the sanctuary where he is sitting in the front pew in prayer.
I light all of the candles. We sit with him in the pew and look at him to recite the service so he can read lips and see where we are, following along in a service bulletin that I marked up so he would know.
We administer communion and we "send" him.
Then she asks him how he is doing. He is going in for surgery to remove his thyroid- it has nodules but they are not sure if they are cancerous or not. There are risks- he could suffer vocal chord damage. And he only has one lung.
Then we hear about the car accident 27 years ago where he lost a lung, his spleen and needed a new aorta. The vocal chords on one side were paralyzed. This is why he has a raspy voice. The thyroid is on the other side- he could be mute after surgery.
And he only has the other lung- after years of construction work, it is not fully functional from all of the dust people inhaled before we knew what we do today about occupational safety.
And there is the hearing issue. After the accident, and after the surgery, while he was still in the hospital, he got an infection. Because of his injuries he had three different doctors- they each prescribed antibiotics to battle the infection- he was triple dosed. The side effect of the toxicity was that he lost his hearing but he is glad the kidney failure was not permanent.
And he has the most wonderful vocabulary and manner about him, between gasps. He recounts growing up on the church and asks some questions, and it is clear that he was bright enough to have been many other things, but here in this rural community, he worked with his hands. And in spite of all of his adversity, he is still happily married and hopeful.
Earlier cochlear implants were not ideal and now he has been almost totally deaf for so long he has "accepted it." He is not angry anymore. He jokes that the secret to his marriage is that he cannot hear his wife.
But the surgery that should be 2 hours long for the thyroid is scheduled for 5 hours. But he must have the surgery. And being in church is a comfort and tears come when he is communed. And he had gotten up early that day and rejoiced that maybe, just maybe he would make it to church at 9 but his lung "locked up." He makes no permanent plans because he just never knows.
Persistence. "Hear me."
And how much more will God do than we?
And when he returns will he find faith?

Persistence

Friday, October 19, 2007

Friday Flick- Come Lord Jesus Come

I have survived the midterm wave once I finish a paper today. But I know that alot of my friends and buddies at LTSG have a lot on their minds and hearts. Family and personal health issues. The missing of loved ones. Needing self care. Stressed about lots of things- maybe feeling inadequate, lost or just plain frazzled. Trying to make ends meet. Living in the tensions.
I am writing a paper on the book entitled Finally Comes The Poet, by Walter Brueggeman. Here are some thoughts:

Quoting Walt Whitman-
"After the great captains and engineers have accomplished their work,
After the noble inventors, after the scientists, the chemist, the geologist, ethnologist,
Finally shall come the poet worthy of that name,
The true Son of God singing his songs."

Brueggeman writes:
"After all such control through knowledge, finally comes the poet.. ( and) prevents our reduced world from becoming brutal and coldly closed in on us."
" Is there a word there ( in the Scripture text) that can rescue me from my exhausted coping?"
This is the task of the preacher.

"The congregation departs. Same old quarrels in the car on the way home. Same old tensions at dinner. Same tired beginning on Monday. Now, however, there is disclosed a new word, a new hope, a new verb, a new conversation, a new risk, a new possibility. It is not a new truth, but rather one long known that had been greatly reduced.
The Author of the text laughs in delight, the way the Author laughed only at creation and at Easter, but laughs again when the sermon carries the day against the prose of the Dark Prince who wants no poetry in the region he thinks he governs."
"The newly proclaimed territory becomes a new home of freedom, justice, peace and abiding joy."

Monday, October 15, 2007

It's About Love

This is the week of the my big fat Greek test, ( bad humor I know). I also have a take home test for Early Church and Creeds, and my CPE application is due. And I know that mountains figure extensively in the Old Testament but could the mountain of reading be a little less lofty? Just asking...And a book review for Homiletics
(might be nice if I read the book soon). And our hometown football team is undefeated for the first time in 50 years- GO BEARS! We are division leaders, which means many more band chaperone events for Mom. LC#1 is bringing home the real to life baby that cries and needs cared for ( this is a child development class project not a living addition to the household), and we are continuing to tutor the Spanish for LC#2. We are helping our spare teen get caught up in confirmation and will be preparing for her baptism. And I need to put together and get approved my multicultural project for J-term. David mentioned a "spin cycle" - I think "cyclone" may be it.

Gannet Girl posted an article where the author suggests that God tests us and uses testing to mold us. I am not so sure that God purposely tests us, but I am sure that a life fully lived does. I am at seminary, and all that that means because of my decision to listen to God calling. I opted to commute ( thus adding another "thing" to the mix). We could have ignored our spare teen's plight ( after all plenty of other people do- she was with our family from 7:50 am to 8:30 pm yesterday and her mom never called). I could be like many other parents and just watch the football game and let "someone" else worry about the kids in the band. I could push off the multicultural requirement until "later." I could decide that instead of worrying about grades, I could sing "P is for Pastor, that's good enough for me" ( this is to the tune of "C is for Cookie" from Sesame Street for those who know).

SO when I am in the cyclone, I can see that alot of my experience is because of my own decisions. But I can also see that God is there, uplifting me, giving me strength and patience, and loving me even when I do not do so well- whether that is after I tried to do well or whether I was just lazy.

And I could choose to walk away from almost any of these things that I am trying to keep simultaneously spinning. So what keeps me spinning anyway? Love.

This past week, as I have briefly alluded, was not the greatest. And this was mainly true in spite of my own efforts. When my supervising pastor responded in anger and frustration to news that I am not to be expected in my teaching parish weekly, she was frustrated because planning has already occurred that might need to be revisited. She probably really wanted to be angry at the professors. But I was the one who was there.

So I waited a couple of days and then followed up to tell her that I was not asking to change any of what we had planned, that I was looking forward to it, so let's keep doing what we planned. Encouraged her that all could be as we had discussed. I had already said this before, but in her frustration, she had just not heard it. We got through it. It is love for God's people and God's church that makes me come back and try again.

It's about love for my teaching parish congregation too. Singing with the four older ladies, although there is a possibility of a guy or two. And talking about low sodium diets, who is having tests run, and whether anyone has tried the new Grange cookbook out.

It is love for my children that makes me fit in more than might seem possible. It is love for my family that makes me commute everyday even when just staying over might be easier if the equation was only about me.

It is love for the stranger, the left behind, the cast aside that has led our family to scoop up the spare teen who is making a stronger statement of faith than any of us by standing in spite of parents who will not be coming to her baptism, but it's OK for her to get baptised "is that's what she wants."

But no matter how much love I, or anyone else can have, we can never match the unending love of our God. No matter how articulate we are, we can only offer a glimpse of the love that compels us to minister to those in our midst through word, deed and sacrament. We can only scratch the surface of seeing the grace, mercy and forgiveness offered to us.

When people act in ways that are painful or challenging, I try to remember first to see Christ in that person. We are all equally beloved children of God, even though it may be hard to see in them or in ourselves. And the things we do in love will test and challenge us, but we will never be alone, because of the greatest love.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Random Thoughts

Some random thoughts about the week:
1. ALWAYS fully read the questions on the quiz so you do not get a comment like "why would anyone care about what you wrote on this paper?" OUCH
2.Sometimes the view from the seminary and the view from the parish are REALLY different. There is a restructuring of the teaching parish program which no longer requires seminarians to be in parish every week. This was not fully internalized by the pastors, nor fully embraced once implemented. You could bear the brunt of the frustration about the change.
3. Your children will still need you : to tutor them in Spanish the night before your test that you need to study for.

But...
1. You will do something in your parish that makes someone smile, or think in a new way.
2. Your friends will tell you about their own mishaps and you will see that even when you feel like you are falling, you are still here and intact.
3. You will remember why you are here, and for me this meant that twice this week someone reached out in need and you were the one who could listen, commiserate and pray with them. For me this came in the form of two friends dealing with family members who committed suicide. One knew of my own family dealing with this. The other, says she has no idea what drew her to talk to me except we chaperone together on a band bus. And so it is, people with huge problems to face, just keep seeking me out.

Friday, October 12, 2007

What If I Stumble?

Well last week was a great week. This week...not so great. Lots to do, lots to think about and lots on the horizon staring me down. Not sure how much I will post about my week in school and my parish. Still processing. I am thankful for great friends and family who support me. Peace and blessings!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Friday Flick

From Jonathan Rundman from Minneapolis, who I learned from his website, helped contribute to the Lutheran Handbook. Coming to play at LTSG next month.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

My List of Fours ( Thanks Dogblogger)

Thanks to Dogblogger for tagging me with this meme.
4 jobs I've held:
-waitress in a Mexican restaurant
- cashier at a discount store
- owner of an ice cream shop
- lawyer

4 films I could watch over and over
-Pride and Prejudice ( with Colin Firth)
-4 Weddings and a Funeral
-When Harry Met Sally
-Luther

4 TV Shows I watch
-Bones
-House
-Weather Channel
-Last of the Summer Wine on PBS

4 places I've lived
- Muncie, IN
-Bristol, TN
- Pittsburgh, PA
-Lancaster County, PA

4 favorite foods
-Buffalo wings
-anything Mexican
-strawberries
-chocolate

4 websites I visit every day
ltsg.edu
everyone on my blog roll
Sacred Space
revgalblogpals.blogspot.com

4 favorite colors
- purple
- turquoise
- leaf green
- black

4 Places I would love to be right now
- Dingle Peninsula, Ireland
- Nova Scotia
- the mountains of NC
- anywhere with my family without interruptions

4 names I love but would/could not use for children
( because I am not having any more)
-Anastasia
-Christian
-Pierce ( ouch)
- any name that kind of sounds funny like A. Tom Baum ( a real person)

And I tag some non-revgals, Prepare Ye, Here I Stand, and revgals, Faith in Community and Gannet Girl

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Happy Birthday - The Beatles

Hey- it's miy birthday!! At 44 I am old enough to legally be the mom of much of my class here at LTSG but -- I am not. Enjoy this blast from the past from a blast from the past

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Lives of the Saints

Today I survived another Sunday without taking out Jesus. In seriousness, today was our Sunday for Laying on of Hands and Anointing. In my home parish I am not sure how many people would get out of their pews and come forward. In this parish, I think it was everyone. Coming forward for a laying on of hands and anointing with oil , the sign of the cross in the name of our Lord. And it was clearly very moving for people to hear a word of forgiveness and healing. And very moving for me to serve in this way.

And I said I would stay for a choir practice. There were 6 of us. Unlike in my home church where we have a library of anthems, here we are singing a two verse hymn in With One Voice. And it would happen that this is originally a Hispanic hymn. And it would happen that I know some Spanish. Could I sing in Spanish so people can hear it?

So next Sunday they will sing a verse and I will sing it in Spanish. And then we will so the same for the second verse. Everyone knows they will have no idea if I say correctly, but in their way this is becoming aware of others. Many churches with anthem libraries would not do as much.

And today the children put dimes, nickels and pennies into ELCA Hunger Appeal envelopes during the childrens sermon on the poor man. And I know a church with an anthem library that did nothing to make the message become action.

They may be small and they may have limited resources, but these people are a flock that is trying.

After church I had some time before the corn maze outing. I went out into the very large cemetery. It has been there since the 1800's and one can learn much about a people there. I found a couple Civil War veterans. One died of thyphoid fever in a Civil War hospital. Of the several World War veterans, one died in combat that I saw. Then I came across a large obelisk of a family. One two sides were the names of 5 children who had either died at birth or within the first year or so. On another side was the name of the wife, Susannah. She died at 34. Then I started doing the math. The youngest child died after her. But when? By two months. Child number 6 - she died in childbirth and the child two months after. No children survived.

When we think of the lives of the faithful, and put it into the context of the parent who has just gotten that knock on the door or telegram from the Defense Department,"We regret to inform you..." or the family of one who died alone in a hospital and news came by letter much later, or the husband who has buried six children and his bride, how much they must have endured and yet remained here in the faith.

Today I see men and women whose spouses struggle with illness, whose children labor with adversity. Yet here they are, wanting to understand the larger world, and put their change in envelopes for change. And they come forward believing in God's saving grace, forgiveness and promises. Come Holy Spirit.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

What if...

I spent my first "real" Sunday in my teaching parish, the church on the country road. Having been told I would fill in where the needs were, I knew I would be serving as lay minister, intoning the Kyrie, and the psalm, leading the Prayers of the Church and assisting with Communion. This was my first opportunity to wear my new alb which I had ordered "Qwik-Ship". It came on Saturday ( which of course is better than Monday after the day it was needed). I received comments on how "nice" my alb was. Which for a moment made me chuckle since one rule some women follow is not to wear the same nice dress to more than one occasion, I am engaging in exactly the opposite practice. But it did feel thrilling to be wearing my own alb. For the last many years of serving in my home parish, we all share a collection of albs available for that purpose. Some better than others.

And I was wearing the pectoral cross I got this summer from the Moravian shop nearby which my Mom bought for me. And this felt more than a little ironic since she has not been supportive of this journey of mine. When I saw the cross while we were together this summer, she offerred to buy it for me, not knowing what its purpose would be- to be worn in worship doing the thing she can't believe I gave up a perfectly good legal career for. What if I can't pull this off?

In my teaching parish the altar space is very different to me, and then there is the credence table. The home for all things to be placed on the altar before they are, in a kind of setting of the table. In 18 years I have never had to learn or carry out this practice of "setting the table" because my home parish does not have such a place. What if I make a mess of it, or worse, what if I drop something, or it flies out of my hand. Behind the altar is a framed piece of stained glass, internally lit depicting Jesus on his knees in prayer. What if, in a Monty Python-esque scene, something flies out of my hand and crashes into Jesus?

What if fear strikes me and I canNOT sing the kyrie, or ..

And then I am also to lead the Sunday school class which is made up of only middle school boys whose typical preteen behavior I saw last week. And with the pastor out of the room, they will surely give me a run for my money. What if...

I am sure God gets tired of my "What if I stumble, what if I fall" routine.
It all turned out just fine. In fact there must be grace sufficient because it turned out better than I had hoped. Even the teaching middle school boys part.

This Sunday I am assisting again, and there is a service for healing and laying on of hands. Something else that will be new for me. And something that feels humbling.
Like hearing in homiletics that we are God speaking. We are God healing. I thought I was scared before- that is truly amazing.

Did I think about this before? Yes and no. It is a lot to wrap your mind around.
Thrilling, terrifying. And hard to imagine being anywhere else.

As for the mountain of schoolwork it is there- a looming presence. And there is the new wrinkle of 13 year old angst. She does not want me around, but now that I am not ( i.e. on Sundays while she is still in our home parish for confirmation)- she feels like things are amiss. And we are jockeying for computer time.

This will keep me humble.

SO tomorrow I am off to the parish and then their youth group is going to a corn maze. LC#2 is invited come along and I hope she will.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Friday Flick :Sonic Flood- Cry Holy

From the Chicks. There is some great footage of India and the crossroads of faith connections. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Friday Flick- Chapel windows


( Thanks again to the wonderful LTSG Communications and Admissions Offices for pics)


In reading the lesson from Ephesians, I also came across what I find to be fitting for this slide show which is Chapter 2:19-22:

"So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it; for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. "

May we not simply be inspired within this place, but may we look out of these windows beyond this place into tomorrows yet unknown.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Puffins just make me Smile






Inspired by Gannet Girl to post our recent puffin pictures. You just can't stay grumpy after looking at puffins. After Greek participles, puffins just make me feel happy again.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The country parish



Welcome to my new parish to which I have been assigned for "Teaching Parish." Behind these doors lies a country parish built on land from someone's farm. There is probably only one farmer left now. Life has changed. To the right, if I had used a wider angle, you would see the sprawling cemetery for the saints triumphant which is still actively used.

Behind the building is a new addition that houses class space, the pastor's office, restrooms, and downstairs, the social room and kitchen. Since the parking lot is around back as well, many people do not come in the "front door" anymore which says "Welcome", they come in the back or side doors which do not say anything.

The congregation worships on average 80 people at one service. Many folks are "from here" although that has started to change. Many people used to come from neighboring farms to this parish, but now they come from developments or home scattered throughout the community. The town actually has three Lutheran churches.

Our parish on a winding country road, off of the beaten path. Some very large new homes have been built nearby but the people in these homes want a church that looks like their home, new, and contemporary. Which may be too bad. For people who will miss out on a great experience here, and for those who wonder what the future will hold here if folks do not come.

Amidst this are people who take awhile to warm up to a new face. Once I was introduced and "installed" many people wanted to meet me at the door, at the sharing of the peace, and during fellowship. Before that I was a face they did not know. Alone. I experimented with their reaction to a total stranger. One person said "Hello" in the parking lot and asked me if I was visiting.

Not one other person said a word. I tried making eye contact, and smiled. I said,
" hello" to people who kind of smiled and kept on. No one sat in my pew even though I sat in the midst of the congregation. Not until it was clear that I was someone they will be seeing and it was clear why I was there. I had the chance to worship in a new place without family ( they were at our home parish) and to be new and "single."

This group of people is pleasant once they connect with me. There is a list of people signed up to take me out to lunch, or home for lunch as the case may be, now that they know who I am. I guess I passed the test, in fact I was even asked what I like to eat.But if they wish to thrive into tomorrow, they will need to grow a little into connecting with the random visitor if they want to continue on. I know they can, and I hope they will. Evangelism is scary.

I sat in on the middle school Sunday school/confirmation- three boys.I confess that while I found teaching 20 middle school students a challenge in the past, three seems...like a different challenge. The class is taught by a high school student and the pastor. Next week I will be teaching with the pastor as the high school student is away.

I will be assistant in worship in a new setting and with new worship practices ( as in this is not how "my church " does it), and intoning the liturgy, but for all of this I will not have a single familiar face. And so the presence of a friendly supervising pastor and the sustaining power of God will have to carry me through. For the first time in my entire life, I am embarking on a journey without a single familiar face, not one connection to prop me up. It's just me and God. I am sure God is up for it. In fact, it sounds really foolish for me to limit God by saying "just God." I am the only one with limitations in this equation.

I think there are many stories to hear and to share. I think that aside from my fears about " getting it right " which is just about me, I suspect that the people here have fears as well. Fears about letting people in who might "change things" or about losing identity, or about what others might think who come here. Maybe a little defensive. Thoughts about what will happen to "my/our church" and maybe if we keep it all the same it will feel right.

But this is surely not the message of Christ for them or for me. This church needs to reach out not just to those who are "like them" but those who are decidedly not. And to eat with the "sinners" whatever that may conjure up. After all aren't we all just a little self-righteous from time to time when we see someone who looks or acts in a way we think is not "right"? And do we not then need to see Christ in those we meet and cast our fears upon God and be about God's mission?

And if this conversation is to happen, it will not be because I or any other person "tells it like it is." If it is to happen, it is because we make connections, build relationships, and understand how each of us got to this place and time. And I look forward to hearing theirs hopes, joys, fears and concerns and pray that they will discern, as I will, where the future will take each of us from the crossroads in our lives. And I am eager to take this journey with them and grateful they have been willing to receive me.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Hero (Red Pill Remix) music video

We missed the Friday flick. Here is a thought provoking video from the Chicks

Friday, September 14, 2007

Blessed are the Peacemakers for They Shall Inherit the Earth

This week people across the nation marked the sixth anniversary of the tragedies which unfolded on September 11, 2001. September 11th holds another importance to me- my younger daughter was born on September 11th and was an elementary school student in 2001 when the world seemed like it was falling apart.

It was, in the tradition of the school, her day to be the line leader and the snack person. And it all started out like any other great day. And it is almost always clear and sunny on her birthday, as it was that day.

She had been dropped off with her cupcakes and dressed in red, her favorite color. Her older sister was also at school and my husband and I were at work. The way it worked out, my secretary was on a family trip ( about a mile from where the plane went down in PA). So I had public radio on and I was vaguely listening as I waited for a client to come for an appointment.

As the appointment began there was a report that a plane had crashed into the Trade Center but the assumption was it was a small plane. Hmm. The client came and we met. When I finished, I called our lawfirm’s main office and people were frantic. Get to a TV, they cried.

So, still wondering, I walked down the street to the coffeehouse and on the TV, the now infamous plane clips that are etched into our collective memory were rolling. I got a coffee and as people were wandering in and sitting down to watch numbly, the first tower collapsed. I watched it as though it was a surreal vision, but it had really happened.

They announced that the last plane was unaccounted for, but was over Pennsylvania. I felt like Chicken Little; the sky was falling. I frantically called my husband, and found out his government office near the school was in lockdown.

The school called and I was on my way to pick up the kids. Driving on a sort of auto -pilot. As it seemed was everyone else. My kids got in the car and it was as I saw the tear-stained face of my young child, I realized that for her this was as much about her day as anything else.

How much do you share with 7 and 9 year olds? They had heard the whispers of a few things. We talked briefly about what I could say, planes had crashed and people were not sure what had happened but that it looked like someone made them crash on purpose.

When we came home, my birthday girl was wondering why anyone would do such a thing. At the time none of us knew who was behind the attacks or why. But it seemed to come from somewhere in the Middle East. I struggled to find a way to explain why any person would embrace death in this way.

I started by saying that people do not always agree about where other people should be able to live, or what religion they can believe, or what people can say and who is in charge. I used the playground as an analogy for who gets to pick the game, or who gets to be on the swings first, or who solves a problem when there is a fight. And I admit that even though grownups tell kids not to act out, and to get along and share, we do not always do what we tell them to do. And so we argue and we fight, even though we shouldn’t. And we try to settle things the way we want and we do not take turns. And we push and shove.

Heads are nodding and I think I have made a connection. Perhaps a little too well. Because then the birthday girl points out that the difference between kids on a playground and adults is that “ when adults fight, the way they settle things is to kill.”

My eyes welled up with tears as I heard the truth of what she so boldly said- yes, sometimes this IS what adults do. And now.. what to say? To my saddened, disappointed bitter child who at age 7 knows us as we can be?

I tell her she is right, and that when people do this, it is wrong, and that it makes God sad. She laments that this is how things are. And suddenly I find a moment of good news. I ask her to think about the fact she is not the only person born on this day. That there are too many to count. And that if she and every other person born on this day says, “ I have had enough!” They can become the peacemakers. They can help to bring the change our world needs. They can work for peace, not just because it is right, but because they know how awful not having peace is. And all around the world, change starts because one person stops saying “there is nothing I can do” and starts saying, “ I can do something.”


So every year when we get to her birthday, we place flowers in church to honor the peacemakers in the world. And as the events of the past become further into history, the best hope we have of honoring memories is to work, pray and hope for peace. And when you remember September 11th, just as it evokes sadness, remember that there is life and hope and God’s promise.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Change in the Scenery

One of the courses for the fall is "Teaching Parish with Integrative Seminar" which is a heavy phrase for being assigned to work in a parish and getting together to talk about ministry. We were asked to fill out a form which was just basic information ( name, address, age, contact info) and prior employment and involvement within the Lutheran church ( if you are ELCA). We were asked to identify any other considerations that we felt might be important.
My home parish has been the Church of the Really Big Deal which has two pastors, a music director, a full time office administrator, 15 members of the Church Council, two services, Sunday school classes for all ages including 3 each Sunday for adults, five choirs, two bell choirs, Wed programming for youth, two weekly Bible studies, and we are the home for multiple support groups extending outside our parish. We own real estate in town and outside of town where we have a place in the woods that has pavilion with a full kitchen and full bath facilities. We have about 335 active members.
My candidacy committee indicated that since this was my reality for the last 17 years, it would be beneficial for me to experience a smaller church setting. So I indicated this on my form.
Yesterday's class was kind of like a blind date. You are waiting to meet the person who has been matched to you. I do not know how sophisticated the process is, but as I watched other people leaving with their matches, and especially since I knew some of these pastors, I could see it looked like a good fit.
Finally, it was my turn, and I have been matched with a vibrant pastor who I have been told is a "hoot." And my parish worships about 80 a Sunday at one service. I have checked out to see that they have a website, and a long history dating back to 1800. They are a rural location and it looks like, as with many churches, there was a heyday, but a few years ago, the rolls were adjusted like many parishes have done.
It looks like after that there was a downturn and now growth is beginning anew.
I am sure that there are stories to be learned. While it might be easy to get out my rose-colored glasses and begin to envision quaint people and surroundings, I suspect that I will find, just as in my own congregation, there are core workers, others who just show up, hopes and dreams, petty slights and disaappointments. In fact one thing that has amazed me in my home parish is when I would hear about some disagreement between members where the end result was that someone continued to come to church mad for years ( as opposed to going somewhere else).
So this Sunday I will be introduced and "installed." And next Sunday I will robe up and roll up my sleeves to work and learn.
I hope I remember to talk less and listen more, and to be slow to reach conclusions, and to see Christ in each person I meet.
Those of you in smaller parishes, if there is any pearl of wisdom you can share I would be grateful.